Watchdog Group Says NSA Spying Tactics Are Illegal

A bipartisan panel claims government's practice of collecting bulk data violates Americans' rights.
3:00 | 01/23/14

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Transcript for Watchdog Group Says NSA Spying Tactics Are Illegal
This is a special room. Hello I'm Taina Hernandez in new York and this is an ABC news digital special report controversial NSA spy tactics are likely illegal. And should be stopped according to a bipartisan panel charged with. Protecting americans' privacy rights right now we have the White House briefing room at Jay Carney responding to that report. Collection. Have had. The effect of making Americans more -- of disrupting. Potential terrorist plots against the United States and the American people as well as our allies. And that it is a useful tool. In the effort to combat. Terrorists who have designs on the United States and on the American people and our allies. It is one of a number of tools. And I think he saw in the decisions the president announced on Friday. His belief that we can take steps to. Change that program to ended as it currently exists and adopt another key club recommendation which was. If you only -- the data the metadata with a court order in order to provide more safeguards and more reassurance. To the American bit. The program itself is not being abused. So it's a useful tool John and and combined these programs. Protect the American people. Protect. Our men and women in uniform overseas protect our allies. And and that's as the president said. The very important and often thankless. Work performed by the men women at the NSA and elsewhere in our intelligence community. You can point to a single off this program itself. I -- -- -- and I for those kinds of analyses I can tell you that as the president said. There's no question in his mind that this is a useful tool one a number of tools that. We are able to employ to help protect the United States against terrorist attack. And having said that he is. Making changes and wants. Others including congress to work with him to make other changes and reforms to ensure that the program. Is. Not subject to abuse and -- While it is still allowed to prove you know to help us combat terrorism. And threats against us. -- understand. It. The question of the status force to -- cream -- cars. -- if you -- if the United States unable to strike a deal with cars. Two are we thought there will be no US or NATO troops beyond me fourteen there's no way around and. Given watching -- white house press briefing with Jay Carney Carney responding to a report. -- bipartisan panel just released today that had criticized. The NSA -- efforts. -- terms of spy tactics let's bring an ABC's Rick Klein to talk about. The issue that bulk data collection specifically -- that was mentioned in the report as not having a legal basis. -- -- summarize their report for us if you well. A stinging report from a government and civil liberties oversight board that says that there isn't the legal authority. Under the current statutes to support the NSA program that the present President Obama. Has continued and strengthened it was actually -- bush -- program. It was kind of reverse engineered around existing law it has been a controversial issue that we've learned so much about over the past year given the Edwards -- revelations we get to. Conflicting federal court opinions one that says -- further legal another one that says it isn't. We also had -- is separate government appointed panel from just a couple weeks ago come out and -- and recommend some changes the program but uphold the basics of it and present Obama himself last week. But this I think is by far the most sweeping indictment of the program and criticism of the program saying it doesn't even have the legal basis basically. That the government is operating illegally in collecting this data. I -- let's take take it back a step because we've had a lot of different panels and a lot of different voices on this issue we heard from. The president's hand -- review panel just a short time ago. They certainly did not go as far as this bipartisan panel -- who is on this panel by the way. This is made up of as you say bipartisan group of people are -- academics primarily people that have served in government. In the past as well the idea is to take this is far outside of politics as possible and give it to people with -- -- with some history of the law some history and civil liberties. And it was also -- divided panel should note it is a strong minority on this that feels like. It is a panel -- their colleagues went too far in opining that on the legality of this and that should be handled by the courts. Rather than this in this particular oversight board but all of their work. Was was really brought forward by the -- revelations and it is there has been a privacy oversight board in place for years now. But it's never gotten headlines before and it's never had much in terms of heat all of this is really because of the stone revelations that put it in the spotlight. And it is put a premium on analysis and insight as to whether this is actually illegal program. All right let's get specific in terms of the report I'm going to quote here this section 215 -- telephone program. Records program lacks a viable legal foundation. Advocates constitutional concerns and that the first and Fourth Amendment. Raises serious threats to privacy and civil liberties as a policy matter and is shown only limited value. As a result the board recommends that the government end the program we just heard Jay -- talk about. Or rather be -- asked about the efficacy of the program has this program stopped any terror attacks it's not a question he answered. It's not what was interesting is the president has answers he says directly that. Is many of fifty particular plots were disrupted in and American lives saved as a result of this program so you're right there were two major prongs to this report one is saying. The whole program is illegal the other is saying the hope program hasn't worked hasn't done anything it's hard set to get to the heart of the matter more directly that I was surprised to hear the White House not get involved -- that argument about the efficacy because we've heard from the intelligence community heard from the president himself on this question. They have said that it has disrupted terrorist plots members of congress have been briefed on it. Have agreed -- echoed that members of the intelligence community have said that directly to account of the -- in the past so. I think for the White House to now -- on that issue is a is a pretty serious. A walk back of what they said in the past. -- the white as it has had access. To. Not the official final report today but they have been working with his panel all along they knew this was. That's right in fact the president met with the members of this panel two weeks ago -- -- you presume we don't know the details of the conversation presume they gave him a taste. Of what was to come and then of course he gives a speech last week so. It was -- with that in mind he had a little more information in the public did presumably when he went forward this again. We it is hard to imagine more -- splits on this to have to federal judges come down on equal. On opposite sides enough to panels come down on opposite sides present Obama putting forward some -- reforms that. I have really upset the global size it has -- -- the -- the critique on either right or the laughed so it's it remains a roiling issue that the president I would imagine is gonna address next week in the State of the Union Address. And it's gonna address there is legislative agenda because a lot of the reforms even that he's talking about -- congressional approval. And of course he wanted to warn that if you wanna rain and it's gonna take an act of congress because it isn't gonna happen directly from the federal government has long present -- there. That when we talk about congress we've already seen by -- you know it's a bipartisan panel but we've also seen a partisan split in terms of the panel that some Republicans. On comfortable you mentioned with. Talking about the legalities of this program with issuing it seemed more of the legal judgment against this program how does is expected to play out in congress. It's going to be fuel for the critics of this program and actively seize an interest in statements here from even allies of the president who come out and said look. This highlights that there are serious concern to this than what at the very least more has to be done. Tick -- guarantee into assuage the public that this is not a program that is run wild that it doesn't mean that the government is just tapping into all your phone calls. But at the very most you can be a lot more than -- including those have been calling for the dismantling of the program that have a report like this a bipartisan panel separate from politics come out and say this is just not legal and it doesn't work. That is something you want to -- quoted time and again from that this the most severe critics of the NSA program. As people start reading you know about this story about the panel it's relatively. New sounding and this isn't panel that's been. Very well publicized but they began their work and 2012. What took so long for them to. Issue this report to really start looking into the issue was an old -- -- as the catalyst. -- -- -- -- city without a stone revelations we would be covering this today no one be paying any attention to what this review board has gone because all of that these would still be classified programs even at the review board got into it. Unlikely that they be raising the kind of place -- they have now it's because of the sunlight because of the public debate. Whether or whatever you think of -- Snowden and whether he should be charged criminally and whether he's a hero or traitor -- whistle or what have you. The revelations that he put forward have changed the public to be any fundamental way we would not have a report like this we wouldn't be talking about these issues. If not for that and I think that has. -- put a spring in -- -- that the president has said repeatedly he wanted to have this public debate he wanted to have -- a slightly different terms is it possible for me to believe that the debate really wouldn't have happened ever. In -- major public forum without those revelation. All right and it continues. Going for -- BC news political director Rick Klein thank you so much for joining us clearly an ongoing issue. We have not heard the last of anti Hernandez in New York you've been watching an ABC news digital special report.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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