The panel appointed by U.S. President Barrack Obama to review the actions of the National Security Agency is calling for sweeping changes, including limiting the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records.
The five-member Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies— which was tasked with assessing if U.S. surveillance protects national security and advances the country’s foreign policy without violating personal privacy rights — also recommended any NSA plans to spy on foreign leaders undergo thorough scrutiny before being implemented.
Although the committee put a great deal of emphasis on these two points, it also recommended 44 other measures be taken in its 300-page report.
The report suggested phone data be stored by phone companies or other third parties rather than by the NSA itself.
“We recommend that Congress should end such storage and transition to a system in which such meta-data is held privately for the government to query when necessary for national security purposes,” the report reads.
“In our view, the current storage by the government of bulk meta-data creates potential risks to public trust, personal privacy, and civil liberty. We recognize that the government might need access to such meta-data, which should be held instead either by private providers or by a private third-party. This approach would allow the government access to the relevant information when such access is justified, and thus protect national security without unnecessarily threatening privacy and liberty.”
The panel also proposed the creation of a new process for “requiring high-level approval of all sensitive intelligence requirements,” such as the surveillance on foreign leaders and in foreign nations.
The committee said spying on foreign officials would cause humungous backlash if the NSA were to be caught and could place a strain on the U.S.’s relationship with the leaders and their countries. For this reason, the committee said, any such surveillance must be carefully contemplated before being approved.
The committee also agreed with the technology companies who for months have been petitioning the government for increased transparency.
“Legislation should be enacted requiring information about surveillance programs to be made available to the Congress and to the American people to the greatest extent possible,” the report said. “We also recommend that legislation should be enacted authorizing telephone, Internet, and other providers to disclose publicly general information about orders they receive directing them to provide information to the government.
“Such information might disclose the number of orders that providers have received, the broad categories of information produced, and the number of users whose information has been produced. In the same vein, we recommend that the government should publicly disclose, on a regular basis, general data about the orders it has issued in programs whose existence is unclassified.”
Although the committee indicated they had found no proof the U.S. government deliberately installed “backdoors” to encryption software, it suggested the White House make clear that agencies are not to undermine global encryption standards or order changes be made to make it easier to collect user data.
The NSA’s Information Assurance Directorate, the division that focuses on computer security to protect U.S. systems, should be separated from the agency and be housed within the Department of Defense, the group suggested. They said this would help eradicate conflicts of interest that could occur when the agency finds “some way into a communications device, software system, or network, (and) they may be reluctant to have a patch that blocks their own access.”
The panel also laid out six “constraints” when it comes to the surveillance of “non-U.S. persons.”
1. Must be authorized by duly enacted laws or properly authorized executive orders;
2. Must be directed exclusively at protecting national security interests of the United States or our allies;
3. Must not be directed at illicit or illegitimate ends, such as the theft of trade secrets or obtaining commercial gain for domestic industries;
4. Must not target any non-United States person based solely on that person’s political views or religious convictions;
5. Must not disseminate information about non-United States persons if the information is not relevant to protecting the national security of the United States or our allies;
6. Must be subject to careful oversight and to the highest degree of transparency consistent with protecting the national security of the United States and our allies.
Altogether, the 46 recommendations, if enforced, will limit the NSA’s authority to carry out a significant portion of its programs without first receiving the green light from the president, Congress, or the courts.
The panel’s report may come as a surprise to some who accused the president of picking a group of yes-men to handle the review.
Four of the members worked for Democratic administrations in the past and the remaining member has ties to the party.
Peter Swire was the former office of management and budget privacy director under President Bill Clinton; Michael Morell was the current president’s former deputy CIA director; Richard Clarke was the former counterterrorism co-ordinator under Clinton and also for President George W. Bush; and Cass Sunstein was Obama’s former regulatory advisor. Geoffrey Stone may never have worked for the Democrats, but he does lead a University of Chicago committee that has a goal to build Obama’s presidential library in Chicago. He was also an informal adviser to Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.
Many were also skeptical about how effective the review would be due to the president’s appointment of director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper to head the effort.
The fact that the panel reported directly to Clapper — who has become famous for his “No, sir” response to Sen. Ron Wyden’s (D-Ore.) 2011 question about if the National Security Agency (NSA) collects information on U.S. citizens — had many saying Obama’s choice proved he was not interested in a truly open review of the NSA’s surveillance programs.
It is not yet known how many of the recommendations will be implemented. Some require the approval of only the president, while others would have to go before Congress.
Obama has already rejected one recommendation: to split the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command.
“The president will work with his national security team to study the Review Group’s report, and to determine which recommendations we should implement,” the White House said in a statement. “The president will also continue consulting with Congress as reform proposals are considered in each chamber.”
Jennifer Cowan is the Managing Editor for SiteProNews.
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