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NSA Programs Have No Constitutional Leg to Stand On

Tell Congress to Follow the Oversight Board’s Recommendations and End Bulk Surveillance!

PCJF statement on Oversight Board report

By Carl Messineo, Legal Director and
Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Exec. Director

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board’s (PCLOB) report, calling for an end to bulk surveillance collection, confirms that the Pentagon’s NSA mass surveillance program, and President Obama’s fundamental endorsement of it, does not have a constitutional leg to stand on.

Moreover, the PCLOB’s fully informed and detailed analysis has found that this dragnet spying program has not thwarted any terrorist attack nor contributed meaningfully to any terrorist investigation showing further that the program is not only unconstitutional but ineffective.

The NSA has hidden behind a screen of generalized threats, claiming that without the program the people of the United States will be put at risk, while simultaneously refusing to release the most fundamental programmatic information and legal analysis to the public in order to keep these claims from being tested.

As the PCLOB has access to this information, we can now see that the NSA uses the claims of national security as a pretext to implement and maintain a massive Surveillance State that they had hoped to keep unchecked and unchallenged. Edward Snowden’s courageous revelations have opened the door to allow debate and evaluation for the first time, and it is clear that the NSA’s claims and representations can’t withstand the light of day.

The PCLOB rightly recognizes that the very existence of these programs, which track people’s political and religious associations, ‘can have a chilling effect on the exercise of First Amendment rights.’ We know from history, from J. Edgar Hoover, from COINTELPRO and other abuses, that such massive domestic spying programs are not merely passive intrusions on civil rights but inevitably are actively used as tools of social and political control. They are not neutral or benign, but lay the foundation for a government that knows everything and, consequently, can control even lawful political action and dissent. These domestic surveillance authorities are inconsistent with a constitutional democracy, no matter how many times the government invokes the threat of foreign or terrorist attack.

The bulk data collection and warehousing on all law-abiding persons in the United States is an affront to the Constitution. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent bipartisan executive agency established through the 9/11 Commission Act, recognizes that there is only one solution: eradication of such programs. Now is the time that we must all take action.

The conclusion and detailed analysis of the PCLOB lay bare the reality of how empty and misdirected are the ‘reforms’ offered by President Obama. Those are not real reforms. They are window dressing, intended to placate the rising tide of public opposition to this startling and covert spying program that captures for the government a record of with whom we communicate, our locations, our associations and transactions and, ultimately, creates the most detailed and intimate portrait of our lives, actions and associations as is technically possible. President Obama’s ‘reforms’ are intended to create an appearance of constitutionality but, as the PCLOB recognizes, the only solution is to end the programs.