WASHINGTON (AP) — A sharply divided government task force that reviewed the National Security Agency's surveillance program for four months has urged President Barack Obama to shut down the agency's bulk collection of phone data and purge its massive inventory of millions of Americans' calling records, The Associated Press has learned.
The recommendation from the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to abandon the NSA's phone surveillance was even more sweeping than a similar proposal from another panel of experts. That panel, the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, advised Obama in December to restrict phone surveillance to limited court-ordered sweeps.
The oversight board's new 234-page report — a copy of which was obtained by the AP — contained several strong dissents from two members of the five-member board — former Bush administration national security lawyers who recommended that the government retain its broad phone surveillance authority. The board disclosed key parts of its report to Obama earlier this month before he unveiled his plans during a speech last week to the nation.
In that speech, Obama said the bulk phone collection program would continue for the time being. He directed the Justice Department and intelligence officials to find ways to end the government's control over the phone data. And he narrowed the NSA's bulk collection by insisting on close supervision by a secret federal intelligence court and reducing the wide chain of calls that the NSA may track. Phone companies have said they do not want to take responsibility for overseeing the data under standards set by the NSA.
Warning that the NSA's massive daily intake of calling records "raises serious threats to privacy and civil liberties," a three-member majority of the oversight board said the government should end the surveillance program and "purge the database of telephone records that have been collected and stored during the program's operation." The board said the NSA should instead seek records directly from phone service providers using "existing legal authorities."