Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Obama Disputes Privacy Board on NSA Program

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Obama Disputes Privacy Board on NSA Program

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama disagrees with an independent watchdog group's conclusion that the National Security Agency's once-secret program that collects billions of Americans' phone records is illegal, the White House said Thursday.

In a major speech outlining his agenda to overhaul NSA surveillance, Mr. Obama last week pressed for a plan to move the phone records out of the government's control. But, unlike the watchdog group, he did not call for an end to the program, known for the statute under which the government claims authority to run it: Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act.

"On the issue of [Section] 215, we simply disagree with the board's analysis on the legality of the program," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. He cited two federal court rulings that upheld the program's constitutionality, as well as the findings of at least 15 judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court over the past seven years that the program could continue under the statute. "The administration believes that the program is lawful," he said.

The program's fate is unclear. Congress is debating whether to end it, federal courts are weighing its legality, and administration officials are searching for a way to salvage the NSA's ability to sift the phone records for terrorist connections without maintaining a massive database.

The 238-page report released Thursday by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board -- arguably the most extensive review of the Section 215 collection's legality and effectiveness -- highlighted other issues involving the program, including a little- noticed feature that lets analysts search subsets of phone records without strict privacy safeguards. That feature amounts to a "back- door search loophole" for Section 215, said Gregory Nojeim, senior counsel for the Center for Democracy & Technology. …

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