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NACDL News: Illegal NSA Program to End ‘As It Currently Exists’
By Mason Clutter
NACDL News columns.
President Obama made an historic speech on January 17 on the review of signals intelligence and the future of the bulk telephone metadata collection program. The president ordered “a transition that will end the Section 215 bulk metadata program as it currently exists, and establish[es] a mechanism that preserves the capabilities we need without the government holding this bulk metadata.” He also provided for back-end protections for information currently in the government’s protection, such as requiring the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to authorize searches of the database and limiting the number of searches from three “hops,” or layers removed from a call number, to two “hops.”
In response to the speech, NACDL Executive Director Norman Reimer said, “While it is a step in the right direction to recommend ending direct government collection of this metadata and to provide back-end protections on searching the information, the president should have supported ending the program altogether.”
Less than a week after the president’s speech, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), an independent and bipartisan agency within the executive branch, issued its long-awaited report on the telephone metadata program. In addition to making recommendations on transparency and reform of the FISC, three out of the five PCLOB Board members made the following findings: “The Section 215 bulk telephone records program lacks a viable legal foundation under Section 215, implicates constitutional concerns under the First and Fourth Amendments, raises serious threats to privacy and civil liberties as a policy matter, and has shown only limited value. As a result, the Board recommends that the government end the program.” The PCLOB Board will issue another report on the 702 PRISM program, which gathers the content of electronic communications, in the coming weeks. NACDL supports these findings and urges Members of Congress to pass the USA Freedom Act, which would end bulk collection of all records, not just phone records, under Section 215.