A member of President Barack Obama’s surveillance policy review board says that the National Security Agency’s metadata collection program is unconstitutional.
“[I]n my judgment the existing program is unconstitutional. As currently structured, it violates the Fourth Amendment’s requirement of ‘reasonableness,’” writes Geoffrey Stone, a law professor at the University of Chicago, in the Huffington Post. “On the other hand, it should be possible for the government to correct the deficiencies in the program in a manner that both preserves its legitimate value and substantially mitigates the risks to privacy that it currently poses.”
Stone is set to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday afternoon alongside other members of the president’s review panel. Weeks ago, the panel concluded its overview of U.S. surveillance policy and concluded the NSA’s telephone metadata program, which collects the date, length, and numbers party to a call, had not been “essential” to thwarting terrorist attacks. That report followed on the heels of a federal court ruling finding that the program was likely unconstitutional. A different federal judge later upheld the legality of the program, citing claims by intelligence officials that the program was necessary to protect the country.
The breadth of the program was first revealed publicly through leaks facilitated by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who is now in temporary asylum in Russia.
Congress is considering changing the law to prohibit bulk collection of communications under the Patriot Act, which would effectively end the NSA’s metadata program as it currently exists. There are two competing bills circulating, one sponsored by Wisconsin Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner and Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, which would end the NSA program, and one sponsored by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein which would explicitly authorize it. Stone’s conclusion is likely to add more momentum to the efforts of legislators seeking to curtail the government’s surveillance powers.
Obama is set to weigh in himself on the issue Friday, after weeks of meeting with both supporters and critics of the current surveillance policy.