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US privacy watchdog: NSA phone records program is illegal

Grant Gross | Jan. 24, 2014
Privacy board calls for an end to NSA phone records collection.

Dempsey questioned whether a new program to replace the current one would be necessary. "I do not think we should just accept bulk collection as a given and layer on additional protections," he said. "We have to go back to the fundamental question: Should we be collecting bulk data and under what legal standards?"

Board members Rachel Brand, chief counsel for regulatory litigation at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Elisebeth Cook, a lawyer with the Wilmer Hale law firm, disagreed with the board majority's analysis that the program is illegal. A "reasonable" reading of the Patriot Act allows such a program, Brand said.

The program "has and will allow us to connect the dots and paint a fuller picture of our adversaries," Cook added.

The board's report gives momentum to the growing call to end the telephone records collection, said Michelle Richardson, a legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union. The board's report addresses the defenses for the NSA program and "completely obliterates them," she said.

The privacy board made 12 recommendations in the report, with 10 getting unanimous approval. Among the other recommendations: Congress should appoint lawyers who can provide a counter to the government at FISC hearings, and the government should inform U.S. residents of the scope of surveillance activities.

 

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