Mass surveillance of the public’s telephone data is an ineffective tool in tackling terrorism and makes excessive inroads into the privacy of ordinary citizens, a new report has claimed.
The study from the New America Foundation makes for damning reading and labels the claim that the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance had led to the uncovering of 50 terror plots as false, calling it “overblown, and even misleading.”
The report looked at claims made by NSA officials and President Obama and looked to verify whether or not the agency’s bulk data collection programs had helped to stop dozens of attacks on U.S. citizens.
Speaking during a recent visit to Berlin, President Obama said: “We know of at least 50 threats that have been averted because of this information, not just in the United States but in some cases, threats here in Germany. So lives have been saved.” Keith Alexander, Director General of the NSA made the same claim whilst testifying before congress.
However, the report suggests that the role of the NSA in foiling terrorist plots has been massively overstated. In an analysis of 225 individuals linked to al-Qaeda, who had been charged with terrorism in the US, the report found that the NSA’s surveillance of telephone records “played an identifiable role in initiating, at most, 1.8 per cent of investigations.”
The report, titled ‘Do NSA’s Bulk Surveillance Programs Stop Terrorists?‘, continues : “Surveillance of American phone metadata has had no discernable impact on preventing acts of terrorism and only the most marginal of impacts on preventing terrorist-related activity, such as fundraising for a terrorist group.”
The review found that traditional investigative means like relying on communities and families, as well as informants, to tip off investigators, and collecting information from other agencies like the FBI and CIA, played a much larger role than metadata collection in the 225 cases.
The news will make for particularly interesting reading for those who have already signed up for The Day We Fight Back on February 11th, a recently announced day of global protest against mass surveillance.