Obama Will Announce NSA Reforms Jan. 17

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We have been describing the technical, legal, constitutional and practical aspects of recent NSA surveillance activities — in particular the NSA’s bulk telephony meta-data program — here, here, here and here, by presenting the thoughts and analysis of Geoffrey R. Stone, one of the five members of the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies.

This is the Group that meticulously examined and analyzed the NSA’s programs and made 46 recommendations to the President last month in a 300-page report on how our nation should continue to protect our security while “simultaneously upholding the liberties that are at the very core of our national identity.”

Professor Stone has yet to publish his fifth essay examining whether the bulk telephony meta-data program constitutes a “search,” and if so whether it is an “ “unreasonable” search — which is something that the Fourth Amendment forbids.

In the meantime, last week, President Obama expressed “an openness” to the recommendation made by the President’s Review Group that private companies, not the government collect and store telephone meta-data and would provide a “pretty definitive statement” once he returns from his Hawaiian holiday break.

And today the White House announced that President Obama will be unveiling his proposed reforms to the nation’s surveillance programs in what could be a speech to the nation next Friday, Jan. 17

According to the Hill:

[The Presiddnet] will be remaking remarks to discuss the outcomes of the work that has been done in the review process,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

The administration provided no details about a venue for the speech, where the president is expected to announce sweeping changes to the work of the National Security Agency (NSA).

Obama has spent recent weeks reviewing a series of 46 recommendations made by a White House review panel, which has called for additional transparency and privacy protections to be added to the controversial NSA surveillance programs.

According to early reports, the president is expected to call for a halt to the government collection of telephone metadata and ask phone companies or a third party to retain control of that information. Under that practice, the government would need to seek additional legal approval to review American’s phone histories.

The president will also reportedly call for additional oversight of the National Intelligence Priorities Framework, a document used to rank intelligence goals and used while making the decision on whether to surveil foreign heads of state.

Read more here.

The Washington Post had this to say:

President Obama will deliver his highly anticipated speech on reforms to the National Security Agency on Jan 17, White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

Carney did not elaborate on what the president will say when he lays out his vision for changes to the NSA’s vast surveillance activities, in the wake of the disclosures from documents stolen by former government contractor Edward Snowden.

As the Washington Post reported Friday, Obama and his aides have been focused behind-the-scenes this week on finishing its review of the spy programs and preparing for the president’s address to the nation. Privacy and civil liberty activists, along with top tech company executives, are calling on the president to adopt sweeping reforms to curb the NSA’s collection of phone call metadata and other personal information of online users.

But U.S. defense and intelligence agencies have argued fiercely that such information is necessary to keep the public safe, even though a White House advisory board found in a December report no evidence that such data prevented a terrorist attack.

Read more here,

Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

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7 Comments

  1. I expect the comments here to echo those on the Post website. Anyone that thinks collecting everyone’s meta-data is an invasion of privacy isn’t going to want either the commercial carriers or a private entity storing anything. Just a guess.

    I hope the recommendations for more civilian control of procedures will be put in place. Some of them require legislation – good luck on that. The adults have left the room just when you need them.

  2. Good points, T.O

    While the Group made some good recommendations on how to balance national security and our rights to privacy, what has gone largely unnoticed in and ‘uncommented’ about the report are several recommendations on how to better safeguard, communicate and store the legitimate (and legal) data we do collect. How to prevent future thefts and disclosures of genuine national security information.

    For example there are at least a dozen recommendations on “better protecting what we do collect”from both both the insider threat and the external hack by using the best available cyber security hardware, software, and procedural protections against both
    threats. Through better personnel vetting and security clearances , better access control, better protection of our secure networks and systems through expansion of the use of software, hardware, and procedures that limit access to documents and data to those specifically authorized to have access to them, etc,

    Read it all here.

  3. The adults have left the room just when you need them.

    That’s my concern as well, anything that requires congress to be part of the solution is probably going to suffer accordingly. As for the “better protecting what we do collect”, I wish I had more confidence in that. I’m not sure how such a promise can be kept though – regardless of who controls the information and regardless of what kind of technological safeguards are put into place. Even so, I’ll look forward to the 17th and hope for the best… whatever “the best” even is.

  4. I also have concerns about protecting what we collect, and by that I do not mean another security leak to the nation. I mean leaks of all kinds for a lot of reasons and a lot of money and a lot of political favors.
    The storage of this data is already decided by a multi million dollar facility in Utah and two more, one in Maryland( almost complete) and the other in Alaska ( rumor has it). There are no plans as far as I can see to stop over-collecting non- essential private information anytime soon, and that is the problem, not protecting it.
    The matters relating to genuine security of our nation have been fully protected for decades. But you have to wonder, if Snowden, Binney, Weibe and Drake all managed to talk openly about it..how many have also seen it and NOT told us? My guess is that rankings of security will change in the handling and collection of this data..which may keep more of it safe not only from leaks to the public but to private corporations and elected politicians.

  5. Dorian,

    “According to early reports, the president is expected to call for a halt to the government collection of telephone metadata and ask phone companies or a third party to retain control of that information. Under that practice, the government would need to seek additional legal approval to review American’s phone histories.”

    I would expect that, although I think aking phone companies or a third party to store information until it is released (once the government has secured legal approval) is a positive step to take, but, I am sure many Americans will feel hesitant even to let a major phone company be privy to what might be their own private communications. But this is a rather contradictory concern when one considers that Americans have already been required to open their luggage before boarding planes, and even local police authorities (if one believes my favorite TV program, LAW AND ORDER) already have permission to secure telephone records for cell phones in order to catch perpetrators.

    I do think that positive reforms need to be made, among them, allowing for a civilian or private citizen’s advocate, to plead the case against allowing the FISA courts to authorize certain requests for information from the NSA—without a second opinion the court has no motivation to probe further into each request! But, at the same time, I think we have been much too influenced by negative publicity that paints the program as somehow interested in each and every one of the billions of individual phone calls, cell phone calls, emails, and text messages, which occur each day. Just because they are stored for a period of time, doesn’t mean that the government is even interested in all the harmless and ordinary communications we all make each day. It’s the ability to isolate certain calling patterns that indicate suspicious liaisons with terrorists that are the NSA’s main concern.

    Although I think that the President has shown a willingness to increase the transparency involved, and to accept criticisms of how to make the collection of data less threatening, I personally would wonder if phone companies or any third parties, would be allowed to offer data to the government, out of their own free wills, or, if government pressures, might covertly force them to comply with its requests? We have all heard that the government can make anyone’s life hellish, if they choose to do so. This logically would also apply to large telephone or communications companies.

    We do need changes, but we also need to avoid unnecessary hysteria about “big brother,” like scenarios, which may not really offer much merit or conform with any really believable scenarios regarding many intelligence situations.

  6. @ Petew

    I believe that the Group’s 46 recommendations to the President is a good starting point. Even if and when the President accepts (some of) them, there will be immense public, Congressional and Judicial scrutiny to make sure it meets both privacy and national security r5equirements. Something better should come out of all of this– I hope,

  7. Dorian,

    And, I may be some sort of Obama worshipper but I doubt many other Presidents would do so much and be so open to such changes, just because the people of this country demand it!

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