NSA Spying Helps Security, Says US Privacy Watchdog

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Privacy watchdog says the NSA spying has improved America’s cyber security, but there are still concerns

A Federal privacy watchdog in the United States has issued a series of recommendations concerning the mass surveillance activities of the National Security Agency (NSA).

In its new report on the matter, the watchdog also raised concerns that it was at the limits of what is acceptable under the US constitution.

Legal Report

The 190 page report by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board was requested by a bipartisan group of US Senators, who asked the Board to investigate two NSA activities.

The first program the Board was asked to investigate was the revelation last June that the NSA collects domestic telephone metadata (i.e. call records) in bulk. The second investigation concerns the surveillance and collection of electronic communications, including telephone calls and emails, when the target is not on US soil. This also includes collection data on non US citizens.

america security - Shutterstock - © Bruce RolffThe Board report explained the legal framework in depth behind the NSA surveillance and snooping activities. The report concludes that the NSA’s activities including the PRISM data collection, is “clearly authorised” by the current US legal system.

“The Board also concludes that the core of the Section 702 program (i.e. the legal framework) fits within the “totality of the circumstances” standard for reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment,” the report said. What this means in the real world is that the report concludes that the NSA activities are an effective tool to safeguard the national security of the United States.

But the report did express some concern when it said that “…certain aspects of the Section 702 program push the program close to the line of constitutional reasonableness.”

Better Balance

It also acknowledged that privacy is a human right for Americans, recognised by US authorities, and that the Board was concerned about the incidental collection of US persons’ communications. But it added that the “treatment of non-US persons in US surveillance programs raises important but difficult legal and policy questions.”

The Board also issued a number of recommendations so that the NSA spying program could better balance civil rights, privacy concerns, and national security.

According to Reuters, this is now the second time that the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board has reported on the activities of the NSA.

In January, it reportedly said that the NSA’s bulk collection of phone records provided only minimal benefits to countering terrorism, and was illegal and should end.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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