January 23, 2014

Wyden Statement on PCLOB Report on Bulk Collection

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) issued the following statement regarding the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board’s report on bulk collection. Wyden is a senior member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

“The privacy board’s findings closely mirror many of the criticisms made by surveillance reform advocates. The bulk collection program was built on a murky legal foundation that raises many constitutional questions and has been proven to be an ineffective tool for collecting unique intelligence information. Moreover, as the board wrote in its report, a program where the government collects the telephone records of millions of law-abiding Americans “fundamentally shifts the balance of power between the state and its citizens.” The board goes on to say that with the government’s “powers of compulsion and criminal prosecution,” collection of data on its own citizens “poses unique threats to privacy,” and is expected to have a “chilling effect on the free exercise of speech and association.”

The board’s recommendations extend to reforms to the FISA court and the kind of increased transparency that is necessary for a democratic government to function.  The reforms to the court do not go as far toward a true and independent civil liberties advocate as many pro-reformer would like. However, they would extend privacy protections beyond the legality of any particular program, into the kind of systemic protections of privacy that should have been available in the first place. The board made several arguments against the legality of the bulk collection program under Section 215 all of which deserve significant consideration. The board came to the same conclusion as myself and many other pro-reformers that surveillance precedent set by previous Supreme Court rulings – namely Smith v. Maryland – do not “fully answer whether the Section 215 telephone records is constitutionally sound” and do not reflect the effects of significant technological advances in telecommunications since that time. 

There have now been two in-depth studies of these programs by unimpeachable government entities that have come to the same conclusion: the bulk collection program should be effectively ended. As the President announced last week, the Administration and the Congress will decide the fate of this problematic program in the coming weeks and it is my belief that reports such as those from the PCLOB and the President’s Review Group should play a major role in any reform effort.”