During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board discussed their 238-page report [pdf] that found the "telephone records collected by the NSA under its Section 215 program" has "shown minimal value in safeguarding the nation from terrorism. Based on the information provided to the Board, including classified briefings and documentation, we have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation. Moreover, we are aware of no instance in which the program directly contributed to the discovery of a previously unknown terrorist plot or the disruption of a terrorist attack."
Previously in December, the President's Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies issued a 300-page report [pdf] recommending sweeping reforms so Americans can have privacy and security. The panel found that the NSA metadata phone record program threatens our privacy, is ineffective, and really has not prevented any terrorist attacks. In short, it just doesn't work.
Today during the Senate hearing, Privacy Board Chairman David Medine said there is no legal basis for the bulk metadata collection program. The program, carried out under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, has "only limited value." The report stated that the NSA's bulk phone collection program "lacks a viable legal foundation and 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."
Medine told lawmakers that the government should end the metadata program instead of waiting for it to be legally challenged in the Supreme Court.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy said the board's "report adds to the growing chorus calling for an end to the government's dragnet collection of Americans' telephone records. As I have said repeatedly, the administration has not demonstrated that the ... phone records collection program is uniquely valuable enough to justify the massive intrusion on Americans' privacy."
While the Senate was hearing the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board's testimony about the phone collection program, elsewhere Kentucky Senator Rand Paul announced that he was suing President Obama, National Intelligence director James Clapper, National Security Agency director Keith Alexander, and FBI Director James Comey over the electronic surveillance.
During a news conference outside the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Paul, along with former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli as lead counsel and the group FreedomWorks, said they filed a class-action lawsuit against the Obama administration over NSA data collection. Paul stated, "On behalf of myself, FreedomWorks and everyone in America that has a phone, we're filing suit against the president of the United States in defense of the Fourth Amendment."
I am filing a lawsuit against President Barack Obama because he has publicly refused to stop a clear and continuing violation of the 4th Amendment. The Bill of Rights protects all citizens from general warrants. I expect this case to go all the way to the Supreme Court and I predict the American people will win.
Paul added, "There's a huge and growing swell of protest in this country of people who are outraged that their records are being taken without suspicion, without a judge's warrant and without individualization."
FreedomWorks estimates the people affected by the NSA collection program is close "to 326 million, the number of cell phone subscriber connections in the United States." The group's press release states, "For too long Americans have been willing to let their civil liberties slip away in the name of national security. Yet despite repeated requests, the NSA has been unable to supply any evidence that these telephone records have been effective in detecting or preventing terrorist attacks."
During Paul's press conference, FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbed said:
This class action suit isn't about Republican versus Democrat, or progressive versus conservative. This is about defending the basic civil liberties of every American from a government that has crossed the line. FreedomWorks is participating in this suit on behalf of our community of 6 million citizens nationwide, along with any American who has a phone. If you use a phone, you should care about this case. Never in American history has there been such a warrantless gathering of citizens information. We believe it is time to put this before the courts.
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Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. Smith has a diverse background in information technology, programming, web development, IT consulting, and information security. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.
Smith is an independent contractor and is not affiliated with any vendor that makes or sells information technology.
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