NSA still collecting Americans' phone records data, despite not knowing the program's worth

The bulk metadata collection program that ensnared millions of Verizon customers (and likely more) could be ended "at any time without congressional involvement."

President Obama shown a classified document during a briefing with DNI James Clapper (Image: White House)

The US government continues to collect the phone records of millions of Americans, one year after a White House privacy board recommended the controversial program should shut down.

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), whose recent efforts were to provide reform recommendations in the wake of the NSA surveillance leaks, said the Obama administration had made "substantial progress" in implementing its recommendations.

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But the report said the government had fallen short of acting on one of the more controversial domestic spying programs, the bulk phone records collection program, which it said could be discontinued "at any time without congressional involvement."

Instead the government has moved in the opposite direction by seeking legislation for new government access to phone records, the assessment report wrote.

The board said the program "raises serious threats to privacy and civil liberties" and has "shown only limited value."

The oversight panel's comments come a year after it released a report on the phone records program, which was leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden about six months earlier in June 2013. The program was met with instant anger that the US government had access to millions of Americans' phone records, an apparent breach of Fourth Amendment protections against government searches and seizures.

US President Barack Obama said more than a year ago in a speech that he wanted the phone records program to change, favoring an unknown non-governmental third-party entity to hold the records.

But just a week before the privacy board issued its report on the recommendations it put forward a year earlier, the Obama administration quietly pulled proposals aimed at reforming the phone records program.

Citing unnamed a senior US official, the president's goal was to ensure the government does not hold the data, though no final decision had been made on the issue.