Government Privacy Board Endorses NSA's Internet Spying

Brendan Sasso | | July 2, 2014

The National Security Agency's Internet surveillance programs are legal and effective, according to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent watchdog agency.  In a draft report, the panel expresses concern with certain elements of the NSA's massive collection of Internet data within the United States, and outlines several reforms it says would bolster privacy protections and improve transparency.  But the report, set for formal release Wednesday, is sure to disappoint privacy advocates, who had hoped the board would make a broad call for reform in its review of spying under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The provision gives intelligence agencies the authority to spy on the communications of foreigners located outside the United States. The NSA has used the power for its "PRISM" program, in which it issues demands to companies such as Facebook, Google, and Microsoft for their users' communications. The NSA has also been using the authority to tap into the Internet backbone to suck up international communications.

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, a bipartisan five-member group that was formed to promote privacy after the Sept. 11 attacks, said certain aspects of the surveillance push the programs "close to the line of constitutional reasonableness." For example, the NSA not only spies on the communications to and from certain targets, but also scans through vast amounts of Internet data looking for any communications about the targets. The government also "incidentally" collects a large amount of information from Americans, and sometimes searches through its databases specifically looking for American data...