The report, released by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), didn’t just look at the basic actions of the NSA, but at the Patriot Act and what it justifies within its policies.
Stating that the article in which the NSA based their data gathering, taken from Section 215 of the Patriot Act, did not give “an adequate to support this program”, it has now been stated as illegal.
Following its inception in 2001, the Bush administration pushed the courts to accept the program as being valid under that particular statute and deem it constitutional. The board found that while those efforts might have seemed justified at the time, it did not bring proper supervision from those same courts.
Ultimately, however, that effort represents an unsustainable attempt to shoehorn a pre-existing surveillance program into the text of a statute with which it is not compatible.
Not only is it illegal, but when placed in the context of national security, it does not appear to have been useful.
We have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the telephone records program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation. Moreover, we are aware of no instance in which the program directly contributed to the discovery of a previously unknown terrorist plot or the disruption of a terrorist attack.
Despite this finding, it is not likely to have an immediate effect on the program itself. The debate rages on about how such a massive program should be handled. With such large efforts and so much data collected, not to mention the still not properly understood ties to spying efforts from other countries to consider, it will take some time to dismantle.
Then you have the fact that these agencies have become so huge and bloated in the first place. For years they have been running rampant and unchecked, establishing greater power and entangling themselves so deeply with this program that other, more legitimate counter terrorism or security departments could potentially be compromised.
Frankly, there is no easy answer. But at least this report makes some bold statement, refusing to back down and coyly tiptoe around the issue of legality. That is a start.