NSA: White House task force recommends surveillance curbs


Former NSA director Hayden analyses the panel's report in an interview with the BBC's Katty Kay

A White House panel has recommended significant curbs on the National Security Agency's sweeping electronic surveillance programmes.

Among its 46 recommendations, the five-member panel said the NSA should cease storing vast amounts of data on calls processed by US phone companies.

Details of the snooping programme were leaked by ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden, now a fugitive in Russia.

The review comes after a federal judge found the programme unconstitutional.

'Public trust' needed

In its 308-page report, the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology recommended the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), a federal court that handles sensitive national security cases, only authorise the collection of phone data when it was related to a specific international terrorism investigation and was "reasonable" in scope and breadth.

The data should no longer be stored wholesale by the NSA, the panel recommended, instead remaining in the custody of the phone company or a third party.

It also suggested limits on national security letters, which are legal orders giving the government authority to demand financial and phone records without prior court approval. It recommended intelligence agencies obtain a prior "judicial finding" showing "reasonable grounds" that the information sought is relevant.

Woman with Edward Snowden mask in Berlin protest on 4 July 2013 Edward Snowden's leaks have generated a debate about how far surveillance should go

President Barack Obama convened the panel in August after Mr Snowden began releasing a trove of internal NSA documents to the news media, bringing highly sensitive electronic intelligence programmes to light for the first time and prompting an international outcry over alleged violations of privacy.

Among its recommendations:

  • The NSA director should be confirmed by the US Senate, with civilians eligible for the role
  • The president should give "serious consideration" to ensuring the next NSA director is a civilian and separate the position from US Cyber Command, a military unit
  • Creation of a Public Interest Advocate to argue in favour of privacy and civil liberties interests before the FISC
  • More transparency at FISC
  • Halting spy agencies' efforts to undermine commercial encryption methods
  • Limits on who can access information gained by the NSA
  • The president should personally approve all methods used by the intelligence community, including spying on foreign leaders

It is unclear how many of the panel's suggestions, which intelligence officials are likely to oppose vigorously, will be accepted by the Obama administration.

Former NSA director Michael Hayden told the BBC the report's recommendations would complicate the task of intelligence collection.

"Making this more public will shave points off operational effectiveness," he said about the NSA programmes. "But... my personal formula in this is if we don't do that it won't matter because the American people won't let us do it in the first place."

'Respecting privacy'

Lawyer David Rivkin and Glenn Greenwald, the former Guardian columnist, put their arguments forward to Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman

Mr Obama met the review panel earlier on Wednesday.

In a statement, the White House said Mr Obama told its members that "the United States use its intelligence collection capabilities in a way that optimally protects our national security while supporting our foreign policy, respecting privacy and civil liberties, maintaining the public trust, and reducing the risk of unauthorized disclosure".

The panel was comprised of Richard Clarke, a former White House counter-terrorism adviser; Michael Morell, the former deputy director of the CIA; University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone; former White House technical adviser Cass Sunstein; and Peter Swire, an expert in privacy law.

On Monday, a federal court in Washington DC found the NSA's mass collection of Americans' phone call information was unconstitutional, in a case expected to reach the US Supreme Court.

Judge Richard Leon called the surveillance programme "indiscriminate" and an "almost Orwellian technology that enables the government to store and analyze the phone metadata of every telephone user in the United States".



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  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    what they say publicly and what they do in the shadows are two different things as we have seen.

    This article omits (although this was key) that obama wants the NSA to stop harvesting data wholesale on US CITIZENS.

    however information leaked into the public domain shows that the modus operandi is for the US to spy on UK citizens, and vice versa, then they swap, avoiding the law entirely.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    Ok so the NSA stop monitoring people then when the next terrorist attack happens who is to blame (apart from the terrorist obviously)
    It will be down to all the people who wanted no more surveilance. End of just remember that when it happens again. All the people who oppose the NSA has the blood on their hands.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    Obama may not be totally to blame for the NSA's abuses of power, but neither did he put a stop to them until they became a political embarrassment too big to cover up or ignore--at which time he did what he does best: appoint someone else to deal with the problem. The question is will substantive changes be made or will the Executive merely re-arrange the deck chairs on the Titanic?

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    I was astounded when the federal judge ruled the NSA had operated unconstitutionally. It's so seldom that wrongs are put right when it concerns governmental actions. No one can read the 4th amendment and still believe the NSA was not behaving illegally.

    Per founding father Ben Franklin, "Those who would trade liberty for security deserve neither, and will lose both".

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    Ever since 9/11 the term national security has been used to erode and outright destroy American's freedom of movement and self expression to a huge degree. The Patriot Act, Transportation Security Administration, Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency all work diligently to silently erode the liberties that are the rights of all free people. It reminds me of the Stasi.


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