For those who missed President Obama’s NSA speech, here is a quick overview of some of the key measures proposed, and the reactions from prominent members in the national security versus individual privacy debate.
1. Among some of the proposals Obama outlined in the NSA speech is the halting of spying on foreign leaders’ mobile devices; a sticking point with many international leaders. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was at the center of the controversy after it was revealed that her personal mobile device was being hacked by the NSA. Merkel went on the record as saying that the actions from an ally were “inexcusable” and that measures needed to be taken to prevent NSA eavesdropping on foreign leaders. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff made a public statement, stiffing a state visit to Washington after it was revealed that she too was a target of NSA spying.
2. Another proposal in Obama’s NSA speech included creating an outside panel – something called “privacy advocates” – which would oversee the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) court. Up until now, the FISA court operates as a secret court which adjudicates, based on their own discretion, as to whether or not surveillance measures should be carried out by NSA officials on a particular individual or group. Analysts say that the third-party could assure more accountability and oversight over the judicial body.
3. Obama proposed that the bulk collection and storage of metadata – that is, the phone call records of millions of individuals; of who they called and when – be ended as soon as a panel could review how to do so without harming NSA operations. A “presidential advisory panel” has proposed that the data collected be monitored instead by a third-party, maybe even the telephone companies, but President Obama did not comment on who would handle the phone information. The program, which is up for re-authorization March 28th, is said to be the date on which General Eric Holder and the intelligence community will file an official report on how to move forward with ending the program.
4. Lastly, President Obama proposed that the U.S. government and the NSA will need to go through a judicial review by the FISA court any and every time intelligence organizations want access to private phone records. This restriction will only be lifted in case of a “true emergency.”
Even though President Obama took time to propose reforms for the NSA’s massive surveillance program, many say that they are not enough and that the reforms have left more people frustrated than satisfied. Critics of his speech are saying that the President has proposed little to no substantial reforms to the NSA, and they are merely “cosmetic” steps to save political face in the wake of international scrutiny.
Privacy advocate and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange called Obama’s NSA speech “Embarrassing,” and said that the President went on stage for “45 minutes and (said) almost nothing.”
Assange went on to criticize key points in the proposals, like the implementation of a privacy or public advocate to oversee the FISA Court; a measure which Assange thinks is likely to change the culture of secrecy and extra-constitutional behavior. “We have to see whether being implemented, who would be this public advocate.” said Assange. “That said, of course, it is a small advance.”
Lawmakers like Senator John McCain said that the speech left many “crucial questions unanswered,” continuing by saying Congress needs to “improve how it executes its constitutional oversight duties.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid praised the President’s speech, saying that he took “real steps to reform methods the intelligence community uses to keep us safe.” Senator Harry Reid went on to say that the proposals will put forth an appropriate balance between the “imperatives of national security and personal liberty.”
One part of President Obama’s speech that caught the attention of observers was the fact that the President mentioned Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who – back in the summer of 2013 – handed over thousands of classified documents to British newspaper The Guardian, by name. Observers say that mentioning Snowden by name shows how much of an impact Mr. Snowden has made on the NSA debate and on the Obama administration in general. Mr. Snowden, after leaking the documents, fled to Hong Kong and then Russia, where he was granted temporary asylum up to a year by President Vladimir Putin.
Assange said that there was no doubt that “the President would not be speaking today if it not for the actions of Edward Snowden.”
by John Amaruso