Intelligence officials say National Security Agency workers follow the same standards in accessing phone surveillance data as those guiding law enforcement's stop-and-frisk policy, The Hill reports
NSA workers have to demonstrate "reasonable and articulable suspicion" when they want to troll through specific information that's part of NSA's massive data collection on all U.S. calls.
"It’s effectively the same standard as stop-and-risk," NSA General Counsel Rajesh De said Monday during a hearing held by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which supervises anti-terrorism surveillance programs.
New York City police say stop-and-frisk is an effective crime-prevention tool, but a federal judge ruled the strategy amounted to "indirect racial profiling" and ordered reforms. That ruling has since been blocked by an appeals court
Board member James Dempsey alluded to the volatile issue, calling stop-and-frisk policies "at the very least, highly controversial," The Hill reported.
"A lot of people feel [it] has ended up being implemented in a discriminatory way," he said.
But intelligence officials insisted searches of the phone call database are subject to more oversight than officers who stop and frisk people on the street, The Hill reported.
There's a "far, far more regulated and rigorous process than is feasible in the physical search content," De said, adding that the standard is high enough that a search "can't be made on a hunch or for no particular reason at all."
Only 22 NSA employees are authorized to sign off on those searches, and the NSA has to note the reasoning behind each search, he said.
Additionally, the Department of Justice and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court review those search records.
"The actual degree of intrusion" when the NSA searches the phone call database "is considerably less" than for a stop-and-frisk search, said Robert Litt, general counsel at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
The comparison of NSA snooping and stop-and-frisk has come up before House lawmakers as well.
Deputy Attorney General James Cole
told the House Intelligence Committee last week that the "relatively low" standard the NSA uses to decide whether it can search its phone records database is the same one police apply in stop-and-frisk situations.
"We're in an area where we're applying [the standard] . . . where there's not any constitutional protection," Cole argued, "and we're applying it in a way that I think needs to be nimble."
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