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US privacy board defends conclusion that foreign surveillance is legal

Grant Gross | July 3, 2014
A U.S. National Security Agency surveillance program targeting foreign terrorism suspects does what Congress intended it to do, members of a government privacy oversight board said Wednesday, defending their report that finds the spying legal and effective.

The PCLOB's report makes 10 recommendations for changes to the NSA's foreign surveillance programs. Among the recommendations: The NSA should specify the expected intelligence value of a target before collecting communications, and the FBI, which can query the NSA's database in U.S. criminal investigations, should better describe its data minimization practices related to the NSA's database.

The report cautioned that the incidental collection of communications of U.S. residents raises privacy concerns. The report's recommendations should help push the NSA surveillance programs "more comfortably into the sphere of reasonableness," Medine said.

Some privacy advocates slammed the report, saying it ignores concerns about a lack of judicial oversight for the NSA's foreign surveillance.

"As the board itself explains, that law has been used to authorize the NSA's wiretapping of the entire Internet backbone, so that the NSA can scan untold numbers of our emails and other online messages for information about tens of thousands of targets that the NSA chooses without individualized court approval," said Kevin Bankston, policy director of the New American Foundation's Open Technology Institute, by email.

The reforms proposed by the board "essentially boil down to suggesting that the government should do more and better paperwork and develop stricter internal protocols as a check against abuse," he added.

Just weeks after the U.S. House of Representatives voted to end the NSA's query of U.S. communications caught up in its foreign surveillance efforts, the board's endorsement of "warrantless rummaging through our communications," is disappointing, Bankston added.

 

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