The ACLU announced Thursday it would appeal a ruling that deemed the bulk collection of telephone records constitutional, setting up a likely Supreme Court showdown.
While the case will likely center on whether the collection of data on American citizens violates the fourth amendment, it’s interesting to note what has been said of the efficacy of the program.
On Dec. 20, a member of the five person White House review panel on NSA surveillance said he was “absolutely” surprised the bulk collection of telephone records by the NSA had not thwarted a single terrorist attack, Michael Isikoff of NBC News reports.
“It was, ‘Huh, hello? What are we doing here?'” Geoffrey Stone, a University of Chicago law professor, told Isikoff. “The results were very thin.”
That flies in the face of much of what has been said of the secretive National Security Agency telephone metadata program — which collects up phone numbers, location data, and call times — allowing an analyst to predict everything from where you could be tomorrow to your race and age.
The program — almost certain to head to the highest court as it was found unconstitutional by one judge and constitutional by another — has been staunchly defended by the NSA and its allies, who often mention the 9/11 attacks in their talking points.
“I much prefer to be here today explaining these programs, than explaining another 9/11 event that were were not able to prevent,” reads one.
While Stone said the mass collection of telephone call records was a “logical program” from the NSA’s perspective, one question the White House panel was seeking to answer was whether it had actually stopped “any [terror attacks] that might have been really big.”
“We found none,” said Stone.
Those remarks contradict the NSA and its defenders, which claim understanding and/or “disruption” of over 50 potential terrorist plots since 9/11. President Obama echoed that point in June, telling reporters that “lives have been saved. We know of at least 50 threats that have been averted because of this information.”
The report noted that “there has been no instance in which NSA could say with confidence that the outcome [of a terror investigation] would have been any different” without the telephone records collection program.
Stone, one of five members of the panel which produced the 304-page report in December, was the only without experience in the intelligence community.
Not all members agree with his view of course. Panel member and former CIA executive Michael Morell defended the bulk collection and hoped for its expansion in the Washington Post on Dec. 27, writing, “Had the program been in place more than a decade ago, it would likely have prevented 9/11. And it has the potential to prevent the next 9/11.”
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