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Privacy board backs NSA's foreign spying

A US privacy board has given support to the National Security Agency's foreign spying operations, declaring that they are both legal and effective in combating the threat of terrorism.

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) published its conclusions in the pre-release version of its Sector 702 report on Tuesday. In the past, PCLOB has been critical of the NSA's domestic bulk collection methods, calling for changes to be made.

Read more: NSA surveillance programme deemed illegal by independent review

Foreign surveillance operations carried out by the NSA are permitted under Sector 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. In theory, Sector 702 spying is intended to target foreign persons who are "reasonably believed to be located abroad."

American citizens are afforded certain protections under the law. However, in the past, the US government has admitted to using foreign data to search for the communications of Americans, and this method of 'backdoor spying' has been widely criticised.

Despite these concerns, according to the report, the board found there to be "no trace" of any illegitimate activity. "The protections contained in the Sector 702 minimization procedures are reasonably designed and implemented to ward against the exploitation of information acquired under the program for illegitimate purposes," the report read. "The Board has seen no trace of any such illegal activity associated with the program."

Read more: A closer look at the NSA's spying tactics

While the findings largely offer backing for the NSA's foreign surveillance methods, certain recommendations were made. These include a suggestion that spy agencies offer additional transparency on how and when Americans' data can be used. Yet some privacy and justice campaigners remain disappointed by the report's conclusions.

"I'm really surprised," said Elizabeth Goitein, a co-director at the Brennan Center for Justice. "The recommendations are surprisingly anaemic when you compare them to the more robust approach that the board took when it reviewed the bulk collection."