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Privacy Oversight Board Gives NSA Surveillance a Pass 170

Posted by Soulskill
from the raise-your-hand-if-you're-surprised dept.
An anonymous reader writes There's an independent agency within the U.S. government called the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. Their job is to weigh the benefits of government actions — like stopping terrorist threats — against violations of citizens' rights that may result from those actions. As you might expect, the NSA scandal landed squarely in their laps, and they've compiled a report evaluating the surveillance methods. As the cynical among you might also expect, the Oversight Board gave the NSA a pass, saying that while their methods were "close to the line of constitutional reasonableness," they were used for good reason. In the completely non-binding 191-page report (PDF), they said, "With regard to the NSA's acquisition of 'about' communications [metadata], the Board concludes that the practice is largely an inevitable byproduct of the government's efforts to comprehensively acquire communications that are sent to or from its targets. Because of the manner in which the NSA conducts upstream collection, and the limits of its current technology, the NSA cannot completely eliminate 'about' communications from its collection without also eliminating a significant portion of the 'to/from' communications that it seeks."
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Privacy Oversight Board Gives NSA Surveillance a Pass

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  • Shocking (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kardos (1348077) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @05:26PM (#47372539)

    "Government declines to voluntarily give up its power, news at 11!"

    What exactly was the expected outcome again?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Obama was supposed to fix the world remember? They gave him the Nobel prize for being black, I mean for promoting peace before he even did anything. This must somehow be Bushes fault. He forced Obama to expand the powers of the NSA.....

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I don't know why this is modded flamebait. It's 100% correct. Until people get seriously pissed at both parties things have no chance of changing. If you're unwilling to vote third party then how the fuck do you expect to rise up if there is a revolution? People need to be angry.

      • Re:Shocking (Score:4, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @11:01PM (#47373873)

        > They gave him the Nobel prize for being black, I mean for promoting peace before he even did anything.

        They gave it to him for not being Bush. That's how unhappy non-americans were with how Bush handled international affairs.
        Obama should have turned it down. But that's a hard thing to do. Especially given that turning it down would have made a lot of people feel insulted.

      • It's nice to see that a good old Anonymous Coward racist rant can still be modded up to +5.
    • What exactly was the expected outcome again?

      It's not hard to show that this BS excuse they use could lead to never-ending expansion. That's why we must stop it about 10 years ago.

    • "We must give up our freedoms for safety!" -The land of the 'free' and the home of the 'brave'.

      Huh. Strangely, I don't see anything in the constitution that allows for this. And strangely, that doesn't sound like something free or brave people would say. Hm...

    • What exactly was the expected outcome again?

      audio quid ueteres olim moneatis amici,
      "pone seram, cohibe." sed quis custodiet ipsos
      custodes? cauta est et ab illis incipit uxor.

  • Not surprised (Score:5, Interesting)

    by NormalVisual (565491) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @05:32PM (#47372559)
    "Yeah, they broke the law, but they had good reasons!" Another useless government agency.
    • Re:Not surprised (Score:5, Insightful)

      by amicusNYCL (1538833) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @05:46PM (#47372635)

      Their job is to weigh the benefits of government actions — like stopping terrorist threats — against violations of citizens' rights that may result from those actions.

      Wait, what? All of a sudden we've decided that violating rights is OK if it makes us more secure? When did we decide that? I don't remember any court decisions that said "well, it's unconstitutional, sure, but it's OK because..."

      Because of the manner in which the NSA conducts upstream collection, and the limits of its current technology, the NSA cannot completely eliminate 'about' communications from its collection without also eliminating a significant portion of the 'to/from' communications that it seeks.

      Well, I guess it has to eliminate a significant portion of the "to/from" communications that it seeks, change the manner in which it conducts upstream collection, and develop better technology, then. Right? Or just stay exactly the same and ignore the unconstitutional part of everything?

      There's a quote from Benjamin Franklin around here somewhere...

      • Re:Not surprised (Score:4, Insightful)

        by hamburger lady (218108) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @05:54PM (#47372689)

        Wait, what? All of a sudden we've decided that violating rights is OK if it makes us more secure? When did we decide that?

        just around when the ink dried on the constitution. you don't think this country has a long, long history of violating rights in the name of security?

        • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

          by amicusNYCL (1538833)

          What I think? I think everyone who has been running this country for the past couple decades has been a cunt and deserves to be thrown out on their ass and locked up. That's what I think.

          Or juuuuuuuuust anothaaaaaaaa cuntrie.

        • by Sobrique (543255)

          There's always always a balance. The police have powers to investigate the innocent. They're innocent because they're - legally - innocent until _proven_ guilty. Which means - by definition - the police are always targeting 'the innocent'. There's a bunch of rules to limit this, including not least a system of warrants - to do certain things to people, you need to be able to convince a judge that they're sufficiently dirty to be worth further investigation. But they're still - in the literal sense - still i

          • The government even has a system where, for cases where time is of the essence and the threat is high, they can take the action first and get a retroactive warrant later from a court that will essentially rubber stamp anything. However, the government's law enforcement divisions are complaining that even this is too much work. They sound like my pre-teen when he's told to do his homework: "It's too hard! I don't want to do it! I'll do it later! I don't have to do it!!!"

      • by russotto (537200)

        I don't remember any court decisions that said "well, it's unconstitutional, sure, but it's OK because..."

        Look up the "special needs" exception, used e.g. in the NYC subway search case. It's basically "... but we really, really want to"

      • Re:Not surprised (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @06:30PM (#47372849)

        Wait, what? All of a sudden we've decided that violating rights is OK if it makes us more secure? When did we decide that? I don't remember any court decisions that said "well, it's unconstitutional, sure, but it's OK because..."

        It has been going on, slowly but surely, bit by bit, for decades. In 1990 the Supreme Court ruled that police sobriety roadblocks obviously violated the Constitution, but that the "safety" they provide overrides that violation.

        The excuse Chief Justice Rehnquist gave in his majority opinion was that while being stopped at a checkpoint did count as "seizure" under the Fourth Amendment, it is only a "slight" intrusion which must be weighted against the importance of preventing drunk driving and the effectiveness of the roadblocks and therefore not a true violation of our Constitutional rights.

        In his dissenting opinion, Justice Brennan wrote, "The most disturbing aspect of the Court's decision today is that it appears to give no weight to the citizen's interest in freedom from suspicionless investigatory seizures."

        [[http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=us&vol=496&invol=444]]

        • by NormalVisual (565491) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @08:12PM (#47373337)
          The excuse Chief Justice Rehnquist gave in his majority opinion was that while being stopped at a checkpoint did count as "seizure" under the Fourth Amendment, it is only a "slight" intrusion which must be weighted against the importance of preventing drunk driving and the effectiveness of the roadblocks and therefore not a true violation of our Constitutional rights.

          "Just the tip, okay baby?" as defined by the Supreme Court.
        • by penix1 (722987)

          In his dissenting opinion, Justice Brennan wrote, "The most disturbing aspect of the Court's decision today is that it appears to give no weight to the citizen's interest in freedom from suspicionless investigatory seizures."

          The same can be said of random drug tests.

      • by Yakasha (42321)

        Wait, what? All of a sudden we've decided that violating rights is OK if it makes us more secure? When did we decide that? I don't remember any court decisions that said "well, it's unconstitutional, sure, but it's OK because..."

        Why do you think it is sudden? Congress, with the courts approval, have been infringing on Constitutional rights since the Constitution was written. They make exceptions all the time: when you can speak (no "fire" in a crowded theater); when you can assemble (Sorry "Occupy", move along... move along...); which guns you're allowed to buy (all without infringing on your right to keep & bear!); and when a warrant is required to execute you (Drone, zooooom, boom!).

        The ends justify the means in each of th

        • All that shows is that we're not the 'land of the free and the home of the brave,' and never have been. Of course, things like slavery made that obvious anyway. Our government is and always was full of freedom-hating scumbags.

          • Re:Not surprised (Score:5, Interesting)

            by BlueStrat (756137) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @10:19PM (#47373769)

            Why do you think it is sudden? Congress, with the courts approval, have been infringing on Constitutional rights since the Constitution was written. They make exceptions all the time: when you can speak (no "fire" in a crowded theater); when you can assemble (Sorry "Occupy", move along... move along...); which guns you're allowed to buy (all without infringing on your right to keep & bear!); and when a warrant is required to execute you (Drone, zooooom, boom!).

            The ends justify the means in each of those cases, so it does now too, and will again in the future.

            All that shows is that we're not the 'land of the free and the home of the brave,' and never have been. Of course, things like slavery made that obvious anyway. Our government is and always was full of freedom-hating scumbags.

            Nothing is ever perfect. The US Constitution sets the standard, or the bar against which the government must constantly be measured against and corrected when government strays/errs.

            Through the history of the US, it has been both closer to that ideal and farther away, and in different areas and in different ways to different people at different times. Since government size has expanded so greatly since the 1920s, likewise so has its' power and control over ever more aspects of our lives and control of ever more US business, health, resource, & economic infrastructure. That expands the severity and scope of such bad government behavior.

            We are in yet another moment in US history where we must decide how far we allow government power to reach, how many of our choices it can eliminate/control, and how much monitoring & control over our speech and communications it can be allowed to achieve.

            Remember; If the capability exists, it will be misused regardless of any laws or oversight put in place. It's human nature, and especially human political nature.

            Strat

      • by dnavid (2842431)

        Their job is to weigh the benefits of government actions — like stopping terrorist threats — against violations of citizens' rights that may result from those actions.

        Wait, what? All of a sudden we've decided that violating rights is OK if it makes us more secure? When did we decide that? I don't remember any court decisions that said "well, it's unconstitutional, sure, but it's OK because..."

        Ignoring the phrasing, courts have been deciding that since almost while the ink was drying on the Constitution. The problem is that the US Constitution is often ambiguous in its statements, and conflicting (or rather overlapping) in its declarations. For example, the Fourth Amendment states that the right of the people to be secure against *unreasonable* searches shall not be violated, leaving the courts to decide what "unreasonable" means as there is no unambiguous definition of unreasonable in the Cons

        • Re:Not surprised (Score:4, Informative)

          by jeIlomizer (3670951) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @09:36PM (#47373639)

          Except when you start taking into account the spirit of the constitution. Then this NSA nonsense is screwed. Any judge who says otherwise is complicit in the crimes against the American people, and many of them have been exactly that. There are no excuses, including 'ambiguity.'

          Courts have also ruled that the right to free speech (or rather the right to be free from governmental restraint on speech) can be balanced against other competing factors, including those that arise from the "necessary and proper" clause of Article 1: Congress can pass laws that abridge speech when it is necessary and proper to their function, such as criminalizing libel, or attempts to incite panic or criminal behavior (the canonical shouting "fire").

          Then they're freedom-hating scumbags, to put it simply.

        • It's interesting that you bring up Schenck, since in this context it is in fact a stark example of the abuse of constitutional rights in this country - it was a court decision that, using sophistry, managed to argue for a prohibition of the exact kind of speech (political) that the First Amendment was originally designed to protect. It's a good thing that Brandeburg wiped that abomination out.

    • Re:Not surprised (Score:5, Insightful)

      by aNonnyMouseCowered (2693969) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @05:55PM (#47372691)

      You should blame Google, Facebook and other Big Data companies for making indiscriminate surveillance somewhat palatable to the masses, who'll be thinking, it's okay for Google and Facebook to spy on us merely for profit, so it should be okay for the government to spy on us to prevent (omg) TERRORISM.

      • by JoelKatz (46478)

        Equating those we voluntarily choose to associate with to those who we are forced to associate with is about as close as you can come to equating guns with arguments. If you don't like Google or Facebook, you don't have to use them. If you don't like the government, you can't exactly choose the other government.

        • by Sobrique (543255)

          Well, you can. You get to vote. Or move to another country. Or declare independence. I understand that's worked out well occasionally.

    • by amiga3D (567632)

      I totally agree. Why are we paying salaries to a rubber stamp board? Useless as tits on a boar they are. It's not like anyone ever doubted the outcome of this. Nothing like having a government agency to oversee the government agency that oversees the government agency that oversees government agencies. No wonder the country is in debt. The only government agency to call out the NSA has been a few various courts. Not much of that either. It's cool as long as they're after terrorists but when they sta

    • by rtb61 (674572)

      Those reasons of course being the information the NSA was able to gather about the board :O.

    • by BoberFett (127537)

      By "good reason" do you suppose they meant "not stopping any attacks on US soil"? Because from where I sit, that seems to be their primary function.

  • by bazmail (764941) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @05:33PM (#47372569)
    This is absolutely abhorrent. The surveillance is illegal, the NSA even admits they spy on American citizens.

    The US government is not "of the people", nor is it "for the people". The intelligence services exist purely to maintain and protect dynastic power for the privileged few.
    • Obviously, what the world needs is a suite of server-less, p2p communication protocols that would cover our basic communication needs without any centralized points of failure (like NSLable mail server operators) and with all communication encrypted.
      • by iggymanz (596061) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @06:16PM (#47372769)

        right after we convict and behead the traitors, sure

        let's handle the primary needs first before getting around to secure comm

        • Persecuting the guilty is not mutually exclusive from securing our comms to block the next group. Securing our communications also blocks the corporations from spying on us, something that mere laws and public resentment won't stop.
      • Obviously, what the world needs is a suite of server-less, p2p communication protocols that would cover our basic communication needs without any centralized points of failure (like NSLable mail server operators) and with all communication encrypted.

        We have one, it's called Freenet. The technology exists, but people aren't using it.

        • I may have been insufficiently explicit in what I had in mind. It's not just the technological foundation, there has to be some practical, user-oriented functionality. For example, collaborative editing and content management is increasingly important today, is there some collaborative document processing system that works on top of the Freenet protocols? So that people could do something new, useful and time-saving in addition to doing it in a secure way?
  • really means "limits of its current supply of fucks to give."

  • Bullshit. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @05:38PM (#47372601)

    Their job is to weigh the benefits of government actions — like stopping terrorist threats — against violations of citizens' rights that may result from those actions

    There is absolutely no valid reason to violate citizens' rights. At all. Ever. There is no way to justify it. These people should be out on their asses, but as we all know, corrupt assholes are in high demand for government positions.

  • Justice (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Executive branch investigates executive branch actions and finds no wrongdoing.

  • by WillAffleckUW (858324) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @05:40PM (#47372609) Homepage Journal

    Not only is it in violation of the US Constitution, but also the Canadian Constitution, and the EU-US Data Treaty that the Senate affirmed, making it more Law than Laws of Congress.

    But, hey, keep up this stuff and don't be surprised when the Guillotines start working non-stop.

    • Exactly whom will you behead, when probably 30%+ of Americans consider the NSA's actions appropriate?

      Our country is deeply and closely divided on tons of issues right now. I shudder to think how many of us would sign off on killing everyone in the opposing group.

      • by BoberFett (127537)

        I wouldn't mind it if both opposing groups simply vanished. The sane people stopped listening to either group of idiots long ago.

      • That would help against CO2 pollution [/tongue_in_cheek]

      • Only 30% I think you are forgetting the apathetic as well not just the cheerleaders of these actions. If it were only 30% with the rest being against it there would probably be blood in the streets.
    • The Canadian government has a loophole, the notwithstanding clause, to allow them to violate your constitutional rights. Sortof like passing the DM treachery notes during a game, and viewed the same way by the general public.
  • "The NSA cannot completely eliminate 'about' communications from its collection without also eliminating a significant portion of the 'to/from' communications that it seeks."

    Almost all the US population and much of the rest of the world's people seen as.. just bycatch [wikipedia.org]?

  • by fozzy1015 (264592) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @06:02PM (#47372727)

    Just like I was when Chris Christie's own lawyers wrote up with a report exonerating him of Bridgegate.

  • Please move along.

  • As long as you have a "good reason" to violate the Constitution, hey, it's OK. Now that's a legal standard I can get behind. "Hey officer, I had a good reason to run that stop sign, I was late for work."

    Remind me why we should bother to obey laws again? Lead by example...
    • Oh, that's right, the excuse has to have "terrorism" in it somewhere... "Hey officer, I had a good reason to run that stop sign, I thought the guy behind me might be a terrorist."
  • "the NSA cannot completely eliminate 'about' communications from its collection without also eliminating a significant portion of the 'to/from' communications that it seeks."

    ....Isn't that like saying, "I can't stop being an abusive husband, because if I'm forced to stop beating my kids, I'd also have to stop beating my wife!"

  • by JoelKatz (46478)

    "Because of the manner in which the NSA conducts upstream collection, and the limits of its current technology, the NSA cannot completely eliminate 'about' communications from its collection without also eliminating a significant portion of the 'to/from' communications that it seeks."

    It sounds like this board completely fails to understand how oversight of surveillance is supposed to work. To government can *always* defend a dragnet on the grounds that it takes a dragnet to get the information they want. Th

  • A "Privacy and Civil Liberties" board stacked with members/former members of the DHS, counter terrorism, Justice Department & FTC. Agencies well known for their efforts to EXPAND government authority not limit it. And anyone thinks for a second that their "report" would have ended any other way?

  • by jdavidb (449077) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @08:35PM (#47373443) Homepage Journal

    You don't have to be "cynical" to expect the government to act in the government's own best interest. The idea that one piece of government will keep another piece in check rather than colluding together to expand power is an unrealistic pipe dream. Honestly we've had over two hundred years of real world experimental evidence demonstrating that checks and balances DON'T WORK. They never did, and never will. The only realistic check on government power is secession.

  • On the other side of the pond...

    "Furthermore, all of GCHQ's work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the Secretary of State, the Interception and Intelligence Services Commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee. All our operational processes rigorously support this position."

    Bollocks.
    To both.

    --
    BMO

  • "Because of the manner in which the NSA conducts upstream collection"

    That's the whole point! You can't say that troublesome methodology is OK because it's the methodology they chose... Circular reasoning at its best.

  • Because of the manner in which the NSA conducts upstream collection, and the limits of its current technology, the NSA cannot completely eliminate 'about' communications from its collection without also eliminating a significant portion of the 'to/from' communications that it seeks.

    I wonder if that would work for me. "Your honor, I had to rob all of those banks because I could not afford the Lambos and prostitutes that I seek."

    Of course the government would have to eliminate such a program that gather

    • The report is a bit more clever than that, and *parts* of it are actually good. It's certainly more info than I ever knew before, and than they would have ever released before.

      The way these "Devils in Details" landmined reports work is that 95% of it is legit, and builds a legit case towards ... what you think it should. Then at the very capstone when it comes time to produce the conclusion, they flip a key paragraph as the landmine. In a perfect world, let's say we ever magically elect a both incredibly po

  • Tell them what you thing about the report:

    Email: info@pclob.gov
    Fax: 202.296.4395

  • They definitely did overlook privacy on this one.
  • >> saying that while their methods were "close to the line of constitutional reasonableness," they were used for good reason.

    This is an obvious sham. Someone's justfication of their actions should have absolutely no effect on judging whether they actually broke the law or not.

  • As a non-American, on whom it is apparently OK to spy as much as you want, may I just say: fuck you. Fuck you very much.
  • Just because something's constitutional it's not necessarily a good idea, and in a government like ours the decision whether to do it or not ought to lie in the hands of the citizens.

If the code and the comments disagree, then both are probably wrong. -- Norm Schryer

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