Privacy Board Calls NSA Eavesdropping Illegal

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One name has been making headlines around the country since June 2013. There have been many terms used to describe him, whether you see him as a traitor or a patriot, Edward Snowden has become a well known character within the United States. His name continues to circulate the news press this week, as the government privacy board is set to release a report on Thursday January 23rd, saying that the National Security Agency’s wide spread collection of phone records, violates the law and should be shut down.  

Let us go back to the beginning, where this controversy first ignited. In June 2013, Snowden released the operations of the United State’s global surveillance program including the monitoring of both Internet and phone use of US citizens to The Washington Post and The Guardian. Rather than staying in the shadows and remaining anonymous, this whistleblower chose to take responsibility for his actions, saying, “my sole motive is to inform the public, as to which is done in their name.”

This leak of secret NSA documents spurred debate across the country. Just as Snowden had hoped, citizens have become more informed about governmental actions. American’s are now questioning the link between national security and privacy as well as wondering what else the government is going to great lengths to hide.

The NSA claims that they have the right to obtain phone records under section 215 of the Patriot Act, which states that it is within the power of the government to collect records that are relevant to terrorist investigations. However, pressure from the privacy board has caused key governing figures to question the constitutionality of this surveillance program, specifically in regards to phone monitoring.

Last Friday, President Obama announced his plan to change the system of the mass collection of phone records, shifting it from the hands of the government to a private company such as AT&T or Verizon. Along with a possible shift in power, Obama suggested a requirement of approval from the courts in order to obtain records. While the President did explain these future reforms, he maintained the idea that the government should have access to phone records if needed. Not everyone is satisfied with these changes and some would like to see an end put to the phone surveillance program completely.

The New York Times and the Washington Post have obtained the 238 page report by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which has not yet been released. The report calls to shut down the mass collection of phone records previously exposed by Edward Snowden. The Privacy and Liberties board in charge of protecting the privacy rights of the citizenry, admits that the program has not prevented any terrorist attacks and instead, has infringed upon the privacy of American citizens. The board further opposes the protection of the program under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which grants the government the power to use phone records in order to obtain relevant information. The privacy board argues that it is not possible to obtain only relevant information when using a tool that allows unlimited access to phone content.

The board further states that the NSA phone program is questionable in regards to both the first and fourth amendments. They turned to the 1979 ruling of the Supreme Court, stating that the police do not need a warrant to search through phone numbers or call durations. However, the board points to the fact that the surveillance being done today is on a mass scale, and is not comparable to the specific cases investigated by police.

Whether the NSA phone program will come to a complete end in the near future is not known at this time. It can be seen that there is current pressure being put on the government, in order, to make the program less intrusive on private citizens. I agree that the program must be altered, as it can be considered harmful to freedom of speech. The conversations that we have over the phone are of our own choice, which should be respected by the government. On the other hand, I do agree that if the security of our nation is being threatened based on a phone call, it is within the best interest of the public for the government to intervene. It seems that the best solution would be for the government to focus on the threatening situations at hand rather than eavesdropping on where my friends and I are meeting for lunch.

[Time] [Nationaljournal] [Theguardian] [Politico]

Taylor Garre (@TaylorLynn13)

Featured image courtesy of [EFF via Wikipedia]

Taylor Garre
Taylor Garre is a student at Fordham University and formerly an intern at Law Street Media. Contact Taylor at



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