By Julian Hattem - 01/24/14 08:26 AM EST
Attorney General Eric Holder is convinced that surveillance programs at the National Security Agency (NSA) are legal, no matter what a federal privacy panel says.
On Thursday, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) declared that the NSA's bulk collection of phone records was not authorized under federal law, did not help fight terrorism and should be ended.
In an interview with NBC, Holder disagreed. He said that he had not read the report but that the "program itself is legal."
He noted that more than a dozen judges on the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and elsewhere have upheld the program's legality.
Last year, a Washington federal court ruled that the data collection was likely unconstitutional.
Holder's comments added to the chorus of Obama administration voices disagreeing with the board's report. On Thursday, the White House also rejected the PCLOB's findings.
Press secretary Jay Carney told reporters that administration officials "simply disagree with the board's analysis on the legality of the program"
"As the president has said, however, he believes we can and should make changes in the program that will give the American people greater confidence in it," Carney added.
In a speech at the Justice Department last week, President Obama directed Holder and intelligence agency leaders to develop a series of reforms to rein in the government's snooping.
In his interview with NBC, Holder also rejected clemency for former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked thousands of secret documents about the country's surveillance. He did, however, say the government would be willing to "engage in conversations" about a plea deal for Snowden.