Saturday, August 10, 2013

Obama Promises Reform of NSA Spying, But the Devil Will Be in the Details

EFF - ...President Obama held a press conference to address the growing public concern over the National Security Agency’s surveillance practices. We are glad to see that the Administration has been forced to address the matter publicly as a result of the sustained public pressure from concerned voters as well as the ongoing press coverage of this issue. Obama acknowledged that Americans were uncomfortable with the surveillance that has been leaked to the media (and noted that he would be as well, if he weren’t in the government).  He made four commitments to transparency and reform during the press conference, and also published a whitepaper describing the legal interpretation of the PATRIOT Act that is used to attempt to justify bulk surveillance.

While we’re glad Obama is responding to the public’s concerns, we take Obama’s promises today with a healthy dose of skepticism. He may be paying lip service to accountability and transparency, but the devil will be in the details when it comes to whether his proposals will be effective.

Other promises aside, President Obama did not commit to reducing the surveillance of Americans’ communications or the communications of individuals abroad who are not suspected of any crime.

Obama’s 4 Commitments – And What’s Missing

Obama made 4 specific commitments around NSA surveillance. Here’s an overview of what he did – and did not – promise to do.

1. Obama will work with Congress to "pursue appropriate reforms to Section 215 of the Patriot Act." This is the subsection of law used to justify the bulk collection of telephone records. Several bills have been introduced this Congress that attempt to tighten up this law, and we’re glad to see Obama will be supportive of such efforts. However, Obama pointedly did not address Sec. 702, the other statute that the government has cited as supporting its broader surveillance, including the content of communications.  And as we’ve explained, to return Americans to the rule of law and privacy and free speech rights that they deserve, we’ll need changes well beyond Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. And even as to 215, Obama failed to explain what "appropriate reforms" might look like. Read what EFF thinks should be in NSA reform legislation.   More