US privacy panel backs NSA’s Internet tapping (NYT, 2 July 2014) – The federal privacy board that sharply criticized the collection of the phone records of Americans by the National Security Agency has come to a starkly different conclusion about the agency’s exploitation of Internet connections in the United States to monitor foreigners communicating with one another abroad. That program, according to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, is largely in compliance with both the Constitution and a surveillance law that Congress passed six years ago. [T]he most recent report, adopted by the board on Wednesday, deals with what the agency calls “702 collection,” a reference to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was amended in 2008 after The New York Times revealed a program of warrantless wiretapping that the Bush administration started after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. “The Section 702 program has enabled the government to acquire a greater range of foreign intelligence than it otherwise would have been able to obtain – and to do so quickly and effectively,” the report said. While it found little value in the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone data, the board said that the 702 program, aimed at foreigners, “has proven valuable in the government’s efforts to combat terrorism as well as in other areas of foreign intelligence.” The program is also used to track nuclear proliferation and to monitor the calls and emails of foreign governments and their leaders. The report concluded that “monitoring terrorist networks under Section 702 has enabled the government to learn how they operate, and to understand their priorities, strategies and tactics.” In a sign of the Obama administration’s relief about the report’s conclusion, it was praised by James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, who refused to talk publicly about the 702 programs before the Snowden disclosures. Mr. Clapper cited a section of the report that said the board was “impressed with the rigor of the government’s efforts to ensure that it acquires only those communications it is authorized to collect, and that it targets only those persons it is authorized to target.”
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