Independent Board on Gov’t Data Collection: ‘No Evidence of Misconduct’

July 3, 2014 - 10:21 AM

David Medine

David Medine, chairman of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, announced the release of a report about government collection of intelligence data authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) on July 2, 2014 in Washington, D.C. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

(CNSNews.com) – At a public session to announce its findings on government data collection through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that some claim targets U.S. citizens, members of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board expressed support for the program and its usefulness in fighting terrorism.

“We found nothing but hardworking men and women in the intelligence community who are dedicated to protecting this country, and we’ve seen no evidence of misconduct,” board Chairman David Medine said in his remarks ahead of the official release of the 190-page report.

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent, non-partisan agency of the Executive Branch established by law on recommendations of the 9/11 Commission in 2007, was asked by senators from both parties and President Barack Obama following the infamous Edward Snowden/National Security Agency security breach in 2013 to study Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act and Section 702 of FISA.

The board released a report in January on the Patriot Act, and the FISA report was unanimously approved and released by the five-member board on Wednesday.

Board member Rachel Brand called FISA “constitutional and highly effective” in not only identifying terrorists but also thwarting terror attacks.

Aside from citing support for FISA at the public session, board members also hoped it would dispel myths about it being a “bulk” data program that collects any and all data the government can gather, but rather a program where “the government collects the electronic communications, including telephone calls and emails, where the target is reasonably believed to be a non-U.S. person located outside of the United States.”

The report also refers to “incidental collection of U.S. persons’ communications” and certain searches that could be applied to U.S. persons.

In the introduction to the report, the board states: “Overall, the board has found that the information the program collects has been valuable and effective in protecting the nation’s security and producing useful foreign intelligence” and has “judicial oversight and extensive internal supervision.”

But the board also states in the report’s introduction that “certain aspects of the program’s implementation raise privacy concerns.”

To address those concerns “the board has also evaluated whether the program strikes a balance between national security and privacy and civil liberties as a policy matter” and makes 10 recommendations to Congress and the White House on how to improve it.

The recommendations include reexamining the FISA Court role in the certification of the collection process, greater transparency, limiting how “U.S. person identifiers” can be used to gain foreign intelligence, and improving technology to make data collection more targeted and prevent collection of domestic communications.

The board concludes in the report: “In addition to this effort to explain the Section 702 program, the board has set forth a series of policy recommendations designed to ensure that the program appropriately balances national security concerns with privacy and civil liberties.

“We do not believe that any of the recommendations would require legislative changes, and the board welcomes the opportunity for further discussion of these pressing issues,” it added.