The National Security Administration (NSA) headquarters campus in Fort Meade, Maryland.
The NSA Internet spying programs, including PRISM, have been "valuable and effective" in protecting the United States, according to a new report by a U.S. independent government privacy watchdog published on Wednesday.
The bipartisan Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) found that the NSA's collection of Internet data is line with the constitutional and has been key to disrupting terrorist attacks in the U.S. and abroad. The 191-page report focused on Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, the legal basis for NSA's PRISM and other Internet surveillance programs designed to vacuum large amounts of Internet-based communications.
The report, which focused on the programs' effectiveness and whether they strike a balance between protecting American national security and honoring citizens' civil liberties, can be considered a win for the NSA and the intelligence community. In January, another report by the PCLOB found that the NSA bulk phone metadata collection program, used to collect the phone records of virtually all Americans, was illegal and had a "minimal" impact on stopping terrorism.
PRISM and the other Internet surveillance programs, on the other hand, had some impact, according to the report. In 20 cases, Internet surveillance "was used in support of an already existing counterterrorism investigation," while in another 30 cases, the surveillance "was the initial catalyst that identified previously unknown terrorist operatives and/or plots."
In the past, the NSA claimed its Internet surveillance programs had helped foil more than 50 terrorist attacks. This claim was debunked in January by another independent study, this one by the New America Foundation.
The board, which is comprised five members appointed by President Barack Obama, found that, in general, the programs have "reasonable" safeguards to protect American's privacy rights, but
some elements push the surveillance "close to the line of constitutional reasonableness."some elements push the surveillance "close to the line of constitutional reasonableness." In particular, the board was concerned about the amount of Americans' data these programs collect "incidentally" and by the rules that allow the NSA and the CIA to search through that data.
Privacy and civil liberties advocates criticized the report, saying it failed to address the NSA's warrantless wiretapping of Internet communications.
"If the Board's last report on the bulk collection of phone records was a bombshell, this one is a dud," Kevin Bankston, the policy director for the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute, said in a statement, adding that the NSA has been wiretapping "the entire Internet backbone," obtaining American's emails an online information without a warrant.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) echoed Bankston's harsh words in a blog post, accusing the PCLOB of ignoring the fact that through the NSA "upstream" program, that allows the NSA to intercept Internet data flowing trough global networks.
"The board focuses only on the government’s methods for searching and filtering out unwanted information," wrote Cindy Cohn, the EFF's legal director. "This ignores the fact that the government is collecting and searching through the content of millions of emails, social networking posts, and other Internet communications."
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, on the other hand, was pleased with the report.
"In this important report, the PCLOB confirms that Section 702 has shown its value in preventing acts of terrorism at home and abroad, and pursuing other foreign intelligence goals," he said in a statement.
You can read the full report below:
Tags: EDWARD SNOWDEN, NSA, PRIVACY, SURVEILLANCE, U.S., US & World, WORLD