An independent review board has concluded that the NSA’s mass collection of phone records is illegal and should be discontinued. The controversial program, which was revealed last summer by Edward Snowden, collects and stores metadata about billions of phone calls made in the United States. The PCLOB asserts that the NSA’s collection of metadata on all phone calls in the United States does not fit within the parameters of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which permits the collection of records that are relevant to a terrorism investigation. The board claims that gathering such a massive amount of data cannot be considered relevant “without redefining that word in a manner that is circular, unlimited in scope.” The report further supports the arguments made by privacy advocates that the NSA’s mass surveillance jeopardizes civil liberties. Acknowledging that the government automatically gathers information about the religious and political relationships among individuals, the board describes a “chilling effect on the exercise of First Amendment rights.” In a copy obtained by Washington Post, PCLOB's report dismisses claims that the NSA’s phone record collection prevents terrorist attacks: “We have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the telephone records program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation…Moreover, we are aware of no instance in which the program directly contributed to the discovery of a previously unknown terrorist plot or the disruption of a terrorist attack.” Last week, President Obama stated that the NSA should not collect the phone records indiscriminately, but should have the ability to request specific information through a court order. But PCLOB's report firmly calls for an end to all mass collection of phone records.
Sarah Berlin is an intern at In These Times.