Today, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), an independent oversight agency within the executive branch, voted on a “Report on the Surveillance Program Operated Pursuant to Section 702 of FISA” (pdf). In January, the board released a report on the NSA’s surveillance program that collects telephone records in bulk in which it said that NSA program is illegal and should be ended. That report was a strong statement for privacy and civil liberties. Unfortunately, the report that the board released on Section 702 today is not. The board has concluded that the program, which authorized the government to target foreigners reasonably believed to be located overseas, is legal.
The board noted that the Section 702 program does raise privacy issues, but its proposals fall short of what are needed for real reform to protect individuals’ privacy and civil liberties. The board says, “The Section 702 program has enabled the government to acquire a greater range of foreign intelligence than it otherwise would have been able to obtain — and to do so quickly and effectively. […] The program has proven valuable in the government’s efforts to combat terrorism as well as in other areas of foreign intelligence.”
The board also says, “Overall, the Board finds that the protections contained in the Section 702 minimization procedures are reasonably designed and implemented to ward against the exploitation of information acquired under the program for illegitimate purposes. The Board has seen no trace of any such illegitimate activity associated with the program, or any attempt to intentionally circumvent legal limits. But the applicable rules potentially allow a great deal of private information about U.S. persons to be acquired by the government. The Board therefore offers a series of policy recommendations to ensure that the program appropriately balances national security with privacy and civil liberties.”
Read the full report here.