Some Recommendations to Rein In NSA Domestic Surveillance Already Rejected By Obama


NSA spying

The Washington Post is reporting that the White House will release later today the report from the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology appointed by President Obama in August. This review was prompted by the revelations of Edward Snowden that the National Security Agency was, among other activities, monitoring for the past five years when, to whom, and for how long virtually every American spoke on their phones. The group has made 40 recommendations with regard to how and when the NSA may engage in domestic surveillance.

From the Post:

The recommendation that the NSA no longer keep the phone database — estimated by some former officials to contain more than 1 trillion records — is among a set of sweeping technical reforms aimed at restoring public confidence in the spying apparatus, said individuals briefed on its contents…

Rather than the NSA, the phone companies or a third party would hold the records, said U.S. officials briefed on the contents.

The report's 40-plus recommendations, also include barring NSA from asking companies to build "backdoors" into their software so that the government may gain access to encrypted communications, barring it from undermining global encryption standards and prohibiting it from stockpiling "zero day" hacking tools that can be used to penetrate computer systems, and in some cases, damage or destroy them, according to the individuals, who were not authorized to speak on the record.

The panel also suggested moving the NSA's information assurance directorate, which is in charge of protecting classified government computer systems, under a separate entity. The idea there would be to separate a clearly defensive mission from the offensive side of NSA, which works to gain access to networks overseas for espionage, and which can be used to enable a military cyber attack on an adversary's computer system.

At a minimum, these proposals certainly should be adopted. However, the Post reports that the president may be reluctant to go even this far:

Some U.S. officials have said that the White House, which is free to accept, reject or modify the panel's ideas, has indicated it is not likely to endorse substantive changes to the phone records program.

In fact, the president has evidently already rejected the important recommendation that a civilian be appointed to head up the NSA.

Yesterday, the CEOs of leading Internet firms, Google, Yahoo, Apple, and Facebook met with President Obama to express their concerns about NSA spying. Last week, they had released an open letter to the president and Congress urging the adoption of five principles to govern government surveillance. The five principles listed at the ReformGovernmentSurveillance.com website include (1) no bulk collection of user data; (2) independent judicial review of intelligence agency demands, (3) transparent reports on what is being compelled; (4) no country firewalls against cross border data; and (5) a mutual legal assistance treaty (MLAT) among countries to prevent conflicts.

Earlier this week, a federal district court judge found that NSA domestic surveillance program violated the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

It is a puzzle that the man who promised that his administration would be the most transparent in history is apparently refusing to make "substantive changes" to domestic surveillance programs.