Responses to recent disclosures about official surveillance of private communications and activities are rolling in. The most recent is from the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which today released a Report on the Telephone Records Program Conducted under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act and on the Operations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The PCLOB is an independent agency whose members were appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Its role is to advise the President about the privacy and civil liberties implications of government efforts to combat terrorism. This report addresses the National Security Agency’s PRISM program, which collects telephone call records or metadata of Americans
Its first recommendation is dramatic and unequivocal: “The government should end its Section 215 bulk telephone records program.” After reviewing the history of bulk collection of metadata, the purported legal authority for government activities, and the efficacy of the program, the Report concludes:
The Section 215 bulk telephone records program is not sustainable from a legal or policy perspective. As outlined in this Report, the program lacks a viable legal foundation under Section 215, implicates constitutional concerns under the First and Fourth Amendments, raises serious threats to privacy and civil liberties as a policy matter, and has shown only limited value. For these reasons, the government should end the program.
There’s more. To read the full report, download the PDF. It’s fascinating reading for anyone interested in knowing details about government activities that undermine core constitutional principles in the name of protecting national security.
The Report demonstrates the enduring relevance of Ben Franklin’s admonition that “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” In this case, there’s little evidence that the sacrifice of liberty has in fact purchased even a little temporary safety.