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Yet another blow for the NSA's controversial phone data colleciton program.

That's one National Security Agency talking point you can strike off the list.

A comprehensive study by the New America Foundation has found that, contrary to government claims, the NSA's practice of maintaining phone records on practically all Americans actually doesn't help prevent terrorism.

The exposure of that program was the very first of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden's seemingly neverending leaks. But high-level officials quickly rose up to defend it. NSA Director Keith Alexander testified to Congress that metadata collection, "together with other intelligence, have protected the U.S. and our allies from terrorist attacks[...] over 50 times since 9/11." President Obama has expressed the same sentiment, saying "we know of at least 50 threats that have been averted because of this information."

But the New America Foundation, echoing Obama's own independent NSA review team, found no such thing. It looked at 225 terrorists caught at least in part with U.S. intelligence since 9/11. The vast majority (94.7%) were caught before they committed the act. Well over half of those cases (59.6 percent) simply used "traditional investigative methods." The metadata program was only used in four cases (1.3 percent).

The governmental authority known as section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act and used to justify the similarly controversial PRISM program, was used 10 times (4.4 percent).

The future doesn't look bright for the NSA's access to the metadata program. Obama's panel declared in December that the agency shouldn't have direct access to that data, though it did recommend it be held by a third party, accessible by the NSA if it jumped through the right hoops. Obama is expected to address those recommendations Friday.

H/T Washington Post  | Illustration by Jason Reed

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