Privacy board gives high marks to spying reforms

The government’s privacy watchdog on Friday gave a positive assessment to the Obama administration’s efforts to reform federal spying powers. 

The small Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) said the government has started to enact reforms addressing each of the nearly two dozen recommendations it made two years ago, on the heels of Edward Snowden’s leaks about American surveillance. 

ADVERTISEMENT
“[I]mportant measures have been taken to enhance the protection of Americans’ privacy and civil liberties and to strengthen the transparency of the government’s surveillance efforts, without jeopardizing our counterterrorism efforts,” the bipartisan five-member board said.

In 2014, months after Snowden’s leaks revealed details of U.S. spying, the PCLOB declared that the National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk collection of Americans’ phone records was illegal.

The program “lacks a viable legal foundation” and “raises serious threats to privacy and civil liberties as a policy matter, and has shown only limited value,” the board said.

The analysis was crucial for critics of the NSA on Capitol Hill, who successfully ended the phone records program last summer. 

Six months later, the board issued a much less critical review of separate legal powers that authorize the NSA to tap into Internet companies such as Facebook and Google and nab users’ communications. 

Across both reports, the panel made a set of 22 recommendations for the government to better protect people’s privacy and be more transparent. 

Of those 22 recommendations, 13 have been implemented in full, either through executive action or by Congress. Nine are still in the process of being implemented. 

Many of the recommendations were accomplished with passage of the USA Freedom Act last year, which placed new limits on spying powers and ended the NSA’s sweeping collection of Americans’ phone records.

That bill has been the target of some criticism on the Republican campaign trail.  

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a leading presidential candidate, has attacked fellow candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) over his strong support for the bill, claiming that it undermines American security.