An independent board tasked with reviewing National Security Agency surveillance called Thursday for the government to end its mass data collection program and "purge" its files, declaring the program illegal in a major challenge to President Obama.
The president did not go nearly as far when he called last week for ending government control of phone data collected from hundreds of millions of Americans. In its report, obtained by Fox News and scheduled for release Thursday afternoon, The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) said the program ran afoul of the law on several fronts.
"The ... bulk telephone records program lacks a viable legal foundation," the board's report said, adding that it raises "serious threats to privacy and civil liberties" and has "only limited value."
"As a result, the Board recommends that the government end the program," the panel wrote.
It remains to be seen whether Obama will accept all or part of the recommendations, but the findings could nevertheless be used as leverage in federal lawsuits against NSA spying.
The report concluded that the NSA collection raises "constitutional concerns" with regard to U.S. citizens' rights of speech, association and privacy.
"The connections revealed by the extensive database of telephone records gathered under the program will necessarily include relationships established among individuals and groups for political, religious, and other expressive purposes," it said. "Compelled disclosure to the government of information revealing these associations can have a chilling effect on the exercise of First Amendment rights."
The panel added that the program "implicates constitutional concerns under the First and Fourth Amendments."