Privacy watchdog finds NSA program ineffective and illegal

Just a few days after Obama's awaited, and disappointing to some, speech about the NSA's program, an independent federal body came out with its own rather scathing analysis of the divisive program. According to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, the NSA's phone record collection spree in the name of counter-terrorism is not only ineffective but also illegal and needs to be shutdown.

The board is a federal watchdog that was made into an independent agency by the Congress of 2007, although it was only recently that it became fully functional. Its most recent and probably highest profile finding is enclosed in a 238-page report that is scheduled to be released on Thursday. And in that report, the panel had very scathing words for the program.

President Obama, while agreeing to limit access to data being gathered by the NSA, defended the program's effectiveness in the government's war against terrorism. The board, however, disagrees and believes that that it has shown very little value. But more than that, it believes that the program is actually illegal. It could not find any legal foundation under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. This section, which gives the FBI power to obtain business records in aid of investigation, is the basis of the government's legal theory for the NSA's phone record collecting activities.

Not all five members of the board, however, were in complete agreement. Two in particular, Rachel Brand and Elisebeth Collins Cook, both of whom worked as Justice Department lawyers under Bush, published separate dissents that explained they did not believe that the program was illegal. Brand worried that the criticism could also be detrimental to the morale of other agencies working to protect the country while Cook held that the program shouldn't be judged solely on whether it was able to stop an attack to date.

Fortunately, the board was unanimous in at least some of the recommendations they proposed. One recommendation in particular, which was not included in President Obama's list, was to not require phone companies to retain records no longer than necessary, suggesting to have raw phone records deleted after three years instead of the five that the administration is recommending.

SOURCE: New York Times