The US National Security Agency's electronic snooping helped smash numerous terrorist plots, a privacy oversight panel has said. The comments were slammed as a "tremendous disappointment" by civil liberties groups.
The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, a panel created on the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, defended the NSA's vast foreign intelligence data sweep efforts on Wednesday.
The NSA's foreign surveillance "is not a bulk collection program. Instead the program only targets communications of particular persons," PCLOB chairman David Medine said. "It is not a widespread collection of information other than (for) those who were targeted based on the belief that they're non-US persons outside of the United States with foreign intelligence value."
The report raised some concerns about unintentional data gathering of Americans, but said the NSA's foreign intelligence work was valuable and generally in line with the US constitution.
This effort has enabled the US government "to identify previously unknown individuals who are involved in international terrorism, and it has played a key role in discovering and disrupting specific terrorist plots aimed at the United States and other countries," it added.
Over 100 arrests, but 'little reassurance'
According to the report, the NSA's surveillance had resulted in over 100 terrorism-related arrests. Around 15 cases involved some US connection, and some 40 cases involved operatives and plots in foreign countries.
US national intelligence chief James Clapper welcomed the report, but civil liberties and privacy activists said the panel failed to consider the ramifications of broad data collection in light of revelations made by former contractor Edward Snowden.
"The perception outside the US is that the NSA is engaged in mass surveillance of democratic nations, and I think there will be continue to be enormous pushback," said Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. "There's a very strong perception across Europe that NSA surveillance has to be reined in. And in that respect the PCLOB report was not particularly helpful."
Nuala O'Connor, president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, said the report "is a tremendous disappointment," adding that "even in the few instances where it recognizes the privacy implications of these programs, it provides little reassurance to all who care about digital civil liberties."
India summons US ambassador
On the same day that the report was presented, India summoned the top diplomat from the US embassy Wednesday to complain for the third time about spying, following new allegations that the NSA targeted its ruling party.
A new classified document made public by the Washington Post on Monday showed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was among the NSA's authorized targets in 2010 while it was India's main opposition.
bk/jr (AFP, AP)