Panel find NSA’s mass Internet spying mostly OK

A federal panel has determined that the NSA’s mass spying on foreign targets online is mostly OK and doesn’t infringe on Americans’ rights.

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, a five-member panel appointed by President Obama, has issued a report addressing Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which has attracted controversy because the Edward Snowden leaks showed that the government’s bulk surveillance of foreign targets’ data (including through a program called Prism, which gathers user data held by tech companies) also scoops up Americans’ information. The board said it “found that the information the program collects has been valuable and effective in protecting the nation’s security and producing useful foreign intelligence.”

While the board found that the program has obviously raised privacy concerns, it said the program has judicial oversight and that it found “no evidence of intentional abuse.” (We wrote yesterday about a report that shows the FISA court has given the NSA a lot of leeway.)

The PCLOB’s conclusions this time around are dramatically different from its determination earlier this year that the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records was illegal. But the panel also issued recommendations meant to ensure the government has no backdoors access to electronic communications (it found none, as alleged by reports based on the Snowden leaks), one member said, according to Hillicon Valley.

Advocacy groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation criticized the PCLOB’s report: “It gives short shrift to the very serious privacy concerns that the surveillance has rightly raised for millions of Americans,” Cindy Cohn, legal director for EFF, wrote  after the pre-release of the PCLOB report Tuesday night. She added that the board focused on the government’s methods for filtering out information it doesn’t want, but “the board skips over the essential privacy problem with the 702 ‘upstream’ program: that the government has access to or is acquiring nearly all communications that travel over the Internet.”


Photo: An aerial view of the cooling units at the NSA’s Utah Data Center in Bluffdale, Utah, in 2013. (Rick Bowmer/Associated Press)


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