Endorsement of the NSA’s Internet surveillance programs by a bipartisan privacy board deeply disappointed civil-liberties activists Wednesday while providing a measure of vindication for beleaguered U.S. intelligence officials.
James Clapper, director of national intelligence, welcomed the conclusion by the independent Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board that the National Security Agency’s Internet spying on foreign targets in the U.S. has been legal, effective and subject to rigorous oversight to protect the rights of Americans.
Activist groups panned the report as a dud.
It was a dizzying turnabout for a privacy board that in January drew criticism in the other direction for branding the NSA’s collection of domestic calling records unconstitutional.
As they unanimously adopted their 190-page report Wednesday, the five board members — all appointed by President Barack Obama —sought to explain their largely favorable conclusions about surveillance programs that have provoked worldwide outrage since former NSA systems administrator Edward Snowden revealed them last year.
At issue is a spying regime, first definitively disclosed in Snowden documents last year, under which the NSA is using court orders to obtain foreign customers’ emails, chats, videos and texts from Google, Facebook and other U.S. tech companies under a program known as PRISM. The documents also showed that the agency is intercepting foreign data as it transits fiber optic lines in the U.S.
Yahoo, Apple, Microsoft, Twitter and Facebook did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Google and LinkedIn declined to comment.