The report by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board also concluded the NSA program has resulted in only "minimal" benefits to efforts to protect the nation from terror attacks, according to the New York Times, which obtained an advance copy of the 238-page document.
The report comes less than one week after President Obama's high-profile speech last Friday at the Justice Department, where the President proposed some modest reforms, while defending the NSA program as a necessary national security tool. Even as presently conducted, he said, the massive daily collections of telephone, e-mail, and other electronic communications has not violated privacy and civil liberties rights, though he acknowledged the potential for abuse exists.
“We simply disagree with the board’s analysis on the legality of the program,” Jay Carney, the president’s press secretary said Thursday.
The findings of the privacy board add what the Times report described as “a significant new voice into the debate over surveillance, underscoring that the issue was not settled" by the president's lengthy analysis and defense of the program last week. The finding that the "metadata" collections have made a "minimal" contribution to national security follows a report of the president's own advisory panel’s review of the program, which found no single case of a terror plot being thwarted as a result of information collected through the controversial NSA program. One federal district court judge last month reached a similar conclusion and found the program unconstitutional, while another, in a separate challenge, ruled in favor of the government's claim that the program is legal.
The NSA data collections have been the subject of intense debate since last June when intelligence analyst Edward Snowden, a contractor with the agency, released to news media classified documents revealing the nature and scope of the program. Civil liberties and privacy advocates have decried the random "dragnet" nature of the records collections, while the Obama administration, the chairmen of the House and Senate intelligence committees, and others have defended the program and demanded Snowden's arrest and prosecution for release of classified information. Snowden, who fled to Hong Kong before finding temporary asylum in Moscow where he currently resides, has been charged with espionage and theft of government documents.
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