Privacy Advisor

A Roundup of Obama’s Surveillance Changes

August 12, 2013

By Jedidiah Bracy, CIPP/US, CIPP/E

The 22-page White House whitepaper on bulk collection of telephony metadata under Section 215.

Privacy Officer for the NSA
In his first news conference since April, President Barack Obama defended the National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance programs, called for more transparency along with a task force charged with reporting on the programs and proposed four changes to the existing programs. Obama said the NSA will create a full-time privacy and civil liberties officer, The New York Times reports. The White House released a 22-page whitepaper defending the domestic collection of phone metadata, and the NSA also released a seven-page document detailing its role and authority.

Other Proposed Changes
In his press conference, Obama also proposed four main changes to the NSA. The president called for restructuring the court to include an adversary to advocate for privacy concerns—a proposal not supported by several “key” Republicans. Presently, exchanges during classified FISA court hearings are between the government and an appointed federal judge. Obama also said he seeks changes to Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act to provide more oversight on the government’s seizure of business records—though the specific changes are not yet known.

Newly released NSA document discussing its missions, authorities, oversight and partnerships.

Establishing a Task Force…Tough Fit for Industry?
Additionally, Obama said he plans to establish a new group to analyze the U.S. surveillance programs and draft a report by the end of the year. This task force would aim to balance “security, privacy and foreign policy concerns” within the surveillance programs. Politico reports that such a task force could be an “odd fit” for private-sector technology companies. Dean Garfield, who serves as president and CEO of the Technology Industry Council—a group that represents companies such as Google, Apple and Facebook—backed Obama on the call for more government transparency. “However,” he added, “the recent discussion around privacy often have merged what should be distinct policy implications of data collection by the private sector versus data collection for government purposes…These issues need to be kept separate.”

On Friday, The Guardian reported on a document supplied by whistleblower Edward Snowden that allegedly reveals a loophole allowing the NSA to access and search the e-mail and phone calls of U.S. citizens. In a column for The Atlantic, security expert Bruce Schneier writes, “When it becomes public that the NSA has been hovering up all of your users’ communications and personal files, what’s going to save you in the eyes of those users is whether or not you fought. Fighting will cost you money in the short term, but capitulating will cost you more in the long term.”

Read more by Jedidiah Bracy:
Senate Committee Presses NSA; Agencies Willing to Re-evaluate Program
Committee Hears Testimony, Patriot Act Must Change
FTC, Irish DPA Release Mutual Enforcement Agreement
Privacy Board To Host Workshop on NSA Surveillance Programs