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Three Things to Know About the Government Privacy Report on NSA Spying

NSA Building
NSA Building
Alex Abdo,
Former Senior Staff Attorney,
ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project
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January 24, 2014

This piece was originally published on Slate.

On Thursday, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board released its long-awaited report on the NSA’s phone-records program. That’s the program in which the NSA collects—and stores for five years—a record of virtually every telephone call made every single day in the country. The report is damning, and much attention will rightly focus on its central conclusion: that the program is illegal and should be ended.

The report is comprehensive, though, and its principal conclusion is buttressed by a series of other critical findings and recommendations. Here are the three other points from the report that will shape the debate about the NSA and privacy over the coming months:

1. Bulk collection of phone records is unnecessary and has not made the country safer.
Since the revelation of the NSA’s phone-records program on June 5, 2013, the government’s principal talking point has been that the program is essential to keeping the country safe. The PCLOB examined that claim in depth—reviewing “a wealth of classified materials,” requesting “follow-up information” from the intelligence agencies, and receiving “a series of classified briefings.” The board paid special attention to the “specific cases cited by the government as instances in which telephone records obtained under [the program] were useful.”

The PCLOB’s conclusion: Bulk collection has not made the country safer.

Read the rest on Slate.

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