Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the top senator on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that he could live with the president’s changes to the NSA’s bulk collection of telephone data, even if they didn’t go as far as he would like, according to the Huffington Post.
Asked if he would fight the president’s proposal to transition control of telephone metadata from under the NSA to a different entity, Leahy replied, “No, and continued:
I think we have a way that we can do this. It is not a question of fighting the president. The question is: What is Congress going to do on this? I think there has been too much leeway. As you know, the FISA court for example, was very critical a few years ago about the abuses of the procedures we had to collect data and asked them to clamp down. I worry because we have just seen what happened –for example, the Snowden thing — there is so much stuff stolen we still don’t know everything that was stolen. And that worries you. They have your telephone calls, Gen. Hayden’s telephone calls, my telephone calls. Where is all this going? I would rather have somebody overseeing where you get it.
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Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent out this statement to his supporters:.
I applaud President Obama’s announcement yesterday that he would work with Congress to ensure better oversight of the federal government’s surveillance efforts as well as stronger protections for the privacy rights of Americans.
I will review the “new approach” the President called for on the collection and storage of Americans’ phone records. I do not believe, however, that the Section 215 bulk phone metadata program has been effective in preventing terrorist attacks. That is why I support shutting down the program. After all, when it comes to new technology and surveillance, just because we can collect massive amounts of data doesn’t mean we should.
It’s crucial that we safeguard the individual rights and liberties of every American citizen while we work to enhance our national security. Yesterday’s speech shows that President Obama is helping to restore that proper balance.
We still have more work to do. Thanks to you and our entire grassroots community who are standing with me to fix our surveillance laws. Together we can ensure the protection of Americans’ privacy while making our country safer.
It’s making a difference.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel released the following statement on President Obama’s NSA speech:
I fully support the reforms to signals intelligence programs that President Obama outlined today – not only as Secretary of Defense, but as former co-chair of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board and a former member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. These programs must always balance the need to defend our national security with the responsibility to preserve America’s individual liberties, and the President’s decisions and recommendations will do that. They will help restore the confidence of the American people and our allies and partners. They will preserve important capabilities that keep us safe. And they will help the men and women of America’s military continue to accomplish their missions all over the world.
The original post (below) outlines what the Washington Post predicted would be the major changes to the NSA “surveillance” Program that the President would announce in his speech.
Below are what the Post believes are the five major changes in U.S. policy on conducting surveillance both at home and abroad proposed by the President:
1) Obama has declared that U.S. spy agencies will no longer hold Americans’ phone records. As a result, the surveillance program that became the biggest Edward Snowden-related controversy will come to an end, at least as it is constructed now. This major shift will take months if not more to accomplish. In the meantime, President Obama is imposing new limits on the government’s ability to access such data.
2) Even so, Obama wants to ensure that the government can still access call records when it needs to. How is not yet clear. The White House cited options including requiring phone companies to hold onto their customers’ phone call records and grant government access under court order, or the creation of a new entity to serve as guardian of a massive call-records database.
3) Obama has ordered significant new restrictions on spying on close U.S. allies. Heads of states that are friendly with the United States will now be off-limits for electronic surveillance. White House officials said they already stopped collection on “dozens” of such targets. Still, there are loopholes. Obama isn’t making clear who qualifies as a close ally, and the restrictions don’t apply to foreign leaders’ aides.
4) Obama is calling for the creation of a new panel to serve as public advocates in cases handled by a special surveillance court. Members of the panel would be cleared to appear before a court that has approved massive surveillance programs entirely in secret, with no input from the public or those who would be surveillance targets. Creating the new panel would require action by Congress.
5) Obama is also promising new privacy protections for foreigners, aiming to assure citizens of countries in Europe and elsewhere that they won’t be swept up in U.S. surveillance unless there is a compelling national security purpose for the United States. The new rules are to be developed in the coming months.
Although the President is still talking about what changes will be made to the way the NSA collects and uses telephone records of U.S. citizens, the Washington Post reports that:
President Obama will call…for significant changes to the way the National Security Agency collects and uses telephone records of U.S. citizens, moving to transition away from government control of the information and immediately require authorities to obtain a court order to get access to it…
Obama has ordered an end to eavesdropping on dozens of foreign leaders who are friends or allies in an effort to restore trust in the intelligence community and in the government’s ability to balance national security and privacy interests.
[Obama] is taking steps to protect the privacy of foreigners by extending some of the protections currently given to Americans.
The president feels that the NSA’s metadata program remains a critical tool for U.S. intelligence agencies to root out and prevent terrorist activities, but “there are ways we can preserve and replicate the capabilities…without the government holding the data and while addressing the legitimate privacy concerns that people have raised about the program…”
The president … has not seen any indication of abuse in the NSA phone program, but he recognizes the potential for abuse and is asking for reforms aimed at those concerns…
“…we are ending the program as it currently exists because the government will no longer hold this telephone metadata, and to give people assurance that we are moving immediately in this spirit, we are no longer querying that data absent judicial review…”
Obama has asked Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and intelligence officials to deliver a plan to transition away from government control of the information before March 28, when the program is due to be reauthorized by a secret court…
Obama…will consult Congress for additional input, asking lawmakers to deliberate on the appropriate boundaries for the phone records collection.
…effective immediately… the president will place restrictions on the number of “hops” that NSA analysts can make on the database in searching for phone calls linked to terrorist suspects. He will say that they can search only two hops — instead of three — from the original number.
….the president will take the “unprecedented” step to protect foreigners’ privacy in NSA surveillance by directing the attorney general and director of national intelligence to develop new protections, including the duration of time the government can hold foreigners’ data and restrictions on it use…
Obama will…call on Congress to establish a panel of public advocates who can be called upon to represent privacy interests before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
[Obama] will direct the attorney general to reform the use of national security letters — a form of administrative subpoena used to obtain business and other records — so that the traditional gag order that accompanies them does not remain in place indefinitely. But he will not, as has been recommended by a White House review panel, require judicial approval for issuance of the letters.
The president will…issue a directive that clearly describes what the United States does and does not do in its overseas surveillance. For instance, the United States does not eavesdrop for the purpose of “indiscriminately reviewing the phone calls and e-mails of people who do not pose a threat to the United States,’’ the second official said. The directive makes clear that surveillance shall not be done to suppress dissent or for “disadvantaging” persons based on ethnicity, race or religion.
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Now, my humble opinion:
Are the changes good? Yes.
Could they be better: Yes — I am sure we’ll get there, slowly but surely.
The author is a retired U.S. Air Force officer and a writer.