As Julian Sanchez points out, the NSA's program of phone record collection is clearly, unequivocally, and totally illegal (and the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board agrees). The Patriot Act's section 215 allows the FBI to collect relevant records for a specific investigation.
The NSA isn't collecting records, it isn't the FBI, the data it collects isn't relevant, and there is no specific investigation. It's pretty amazing that there are still people (including Obama) insisting that the program is legal.
Believe it or not, he's not even being that glib here. Section 215 is pretty clear on all of those things. It's just for the FBI, and allows them to get records relevant to a specific investigation. Yet, the program is run by the NSA, which collects the data, instead of the FBI. It is not collecting "records" as intended by the law, and most of those records are irrelevant, and none of this is tied to any particular investigation. I'm reminded of the joke that the Holy Roman Empire wasn't actually holy, Roman or an empire.
When the law includes four basic conditions, and basically all four of them are not met, the program is beyond illegal. It's just a farce. It's kind of amazing that President Obama and other NSA defenders are still arguing that the program is perfectly fine.
Almost Everything About The Bulk Collection Of Phone Data Is Illegal [Michael Masnick/Techdirt]
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