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Illegal and Ineffective

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In an ideal world, Obama’s NSA speech last week would have reached the same conclusions as independent analysts did:

An independent federal privacy watchdog has concluded that the National Security Agency’s program to collect bulk phone call records has provided only “minimal” benefits in counterterrorism efforts, is illegal and should be shut down.

The findings are laid out in a 238-page report, scheduled for release by Thursday and obtained by The New York Times, that represent the first major public statement by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which Congress made an independent agency in 2007 and only recently became fully operational.

Even leaving aside privacy concerns — which we evidently shouldn’t! — I’ve never heard a plausible argument for why collecting lots of haystacks is better as a law enforcement tool than individualized suspicion. The assumed tradeoff between civil liberties and law enforcement is sort of like the scouts who assume that if a catcher can’t hit he must play good defense — if something violates privacy it seems to create a presumption that it’s good for public security. But, in fact, there’s no reason that diminished civil liberties can’t be a lose-lose proposition, and it’s likely that the NSA’s metadata program is exactly that.

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