The National Security Agency programmme that collects data on nearly every US phone call isn't legal, a privacy review board said yesterday in a newly released report.
Moreover, the five-member Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board said it's been largely useless in thwarting terrorism.The board said it had identified only one instance in which the program helped authorities identify a terrorist in the last seven years. But the board said law enforcement would have found the suspect anyway, even without the NSA programme.
The board doesn't have any legal teeth, so its recommendations won't change government practices the way a court ruling might.
But the findings are a stinging rebuke of President Barack Obama's legal defense of the program, in which the NSA tracks millions of telephone calls each day, harvesting the telephone numbers involved, the time calls are placed and how long they last.
A majority of the board -- formed as part of the federal government's response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks -- agreed with critics of the NSA that the programme raises constitutional concerns.
"The Board concludes that Section 215 does not provide an adequate legal basis to support the programme," it wrote its report. CNN reviewed a copy of the report.
The board said the law authorises the FBI to collect records related to a specific investigation, but not bulk collection of data that "cannot be regarded as 'relevant' to any FBI investigation."
The law also "does not authorise the NSA to collect anything," the board said.
Last week, after a report by an outside review group appointed by Obama, the President announced changes to the programme.
Among other things, the NSA must now ask a judge each time an analyst wants to look at the data, and the agency will eventually lose its role as custodian of the information.
Privacy advocates called the changes "window dressing."