Julian Sanchez writes: A Republican-appointed judge and President Obama’s own handpicked Surveillance Review Group both came to the same conclusion last week: The National Security Agency’s controversial phone-records program has been of little real value to American security. Yet its defenders continue to insist that it is necessary, clinging desperately to long-debunked claims about foiled terror plots. Their stubbornness fits a decade-long pattern of fear trumping evidence whenever the word “terrorism” is uttered — a pattern it is time to finally break.
Since the disclosure of the NSA’s massive domestic phone-records database, authorized under a tortured reading of the Patriot Act’s Section 215 authority to obtain business records, intelligence officials and their allies in Congress have claimed it plays a vital role in protecting Americans from “dozens” of terror attacks. But as the expert panel Obama appointed to review the classified facts concluded, in a report released Wednesday, that just isn’t true.
“Our review suggests that the information contributed to terrorist investigations by the use of section 215 telephony meta-data was not essential to preventing attacks,” the report found, “and could readily have been obtained in a timely manner using conventional section 215 orders.”
In other words, instead of vacuuming up sensitive information about the call patterns of millions of innocent people, the government could have followed the traditional approach of getting orders for specific suspicious numbers. As for those “dozens” of attacks, the review groups found that the NSA program “generated relevant information in only a small number of cases, and there has been no instance in which NSA could say with confidence that the outcome would have been different without the section 215 telephony meta-data program.” [Continue reading…]