A divided government privacy board is urging President Obama to shut down the bulk collection of telephone data by the National Security Agency and to purge its existing inventory.
"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," said the report from the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.
The board is set to release a report Thursday on NSA surveillance programs.
Three of the five board call the bulk collection illegally; two dissenters said the board should have made policy recommendations, not legal analysis.
"Beyond such individual privacy intrusions," wrote the majority, "permitting the government to routinely collect the calling records of the entire nation fundamentally shifts the balance of power between the state and its citizens. With its powers of compulsion and criminal prosecution, the government poses unique threats to privacy when it collects data on its own citizens."
Dissenting board member Rachel Brand wrote: "I am concerned that the Report gives insufficient weight to the need for a proactive approach to combating terrorism, and I hope that the Report will not contribute to what has aptly been described as cycles of 'timidity and aggression' in the government's approach to national security."
Obama, who has defended the NSA programs as necessary counter-terrorism tools, announced last week has asked Justice Department and intelligence officials to look for ways to end the government's control of the phone data. He also wants to restrict access to the data.
From the Associated Press:
"Warning that the NSA's massive daily intake of calling records 'raises serious threats to privacy and civil liberties,' a three-member majority of the oversight board said the government should end the surveillance program and 'purge the database of telephone records that have been collected and stored during the program's operation.' The board said the NSA should instead seek records directly from phone service providers using 'existing legal authorities.'" ...
"Along with its call for ending bulk phone surveillance, the oversight board report outlined 11 other recommendations on surveillance policy, calling for more government transparency and other reforms aimed at bolstering civil liberties and privacy protections.
"The board called for special attorneys to provide independent views in some proceedings before the secret spy court -- as opposed to Obama's plan for a panel of experts that would participate at times. The board also urged the administration to provide the public with clear explanations of the legal authority behind any surveillance affecting Americans."