Obama's Response To NSA Surveillance: Some Minor Reforms & Transparency; Still Lacking Justification

from the uh,-not-good-enough dept

President Obama just gave a press conference in which he announced a four step “response” to the public’s concerns over the revelations of NSA surveillance. He continued to defend the basic program, even referring to his public record concerns back when he was a Senator. He further claims that prior to Snowden’s leaks he’d already ordered a full review of these programs (of course that was all in secret) and Snowden’s leaks merely “accelerated” the process (while also, Obama claimed, putting our national security “at risk”). However, he admits that — while disturbed about Snowden’s leaks — he recognizes the public’s concerns over NSA surveillance and the fact that there is a history of “abuses” when there are “great capabilities” for surveillance. As such, he’s proposing a four-pronged plan to defend the programs, reform them slightly, and increase transparency to build up trust.

  1. Consider some “reforms” of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, and will reveal more details of the government’s secret legal interpretation under Section 215 that allows them to hoover up all data on every communication. That document has been released, and will be discussed in a future post.
  2. Improve “public confidence” in the FISA court (FISC) with greater transparency about FISC decisions and support for a civil liberties advocate playing a role in “appropriate cases” so that the judges don’t just hear from one side. This reform has been suggested a few times and isn’t a terrible one, but does have some logistical problems.
  3. Set up a website to increase transparency. Yeah, sure.
  4. Set up a group of “outside experts” to review the whole program. Seems a bit late for that.

That’s about it. Note that there are precious few specifics. It’s a lot of rhetoric about transparency, with a few random claims about how important these programs are. Separately, he continued to insist that we’re better than some other countries (setting the bar low) and that we don’t spy on Americans — despite the evidence from this morning that this isn’t true.

In answering questions, he insisted the two key programs being discussed, Section 215 of the Patriot Act and 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, were critical to finding important intelligence — despite the fact that multiple Senators have insisted that there remains no evidence that Section 215 was necessary in any terrorist case.

All in all this seems like a PR scramble by the an administration that realizes it’s on the losing side of the public debate. The promises seem pretty weak and hollow. The idea that he was already moving in this direction before the Snowden leaks is simply laughable. Section 702 was just renewed eight months ago and his administration fought very hard against any detailed analysis and any amendment to the law. Reality just doesn’t support these claims.

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Comments on “Obama's Response To NSA Surveillance: Some Minor Reforms & Transparency; Still Lacking Justification”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

And you can start by 1. Throwing out your preconceived notions and justifications of what the Constitution means and start over by actually reading what it says then working from there and then 2. Actually listening to what the people are telling you that they want and believe instead of trying to defend and twist it all to pretend like you are listening to them and try to convince them of the way you want things to be.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Here's a question:

If Snowden’s leaks merely ‘sped up’ something that was already going to happen, why has the USG been freaking out so much about them? They got a foreign president’s plane grounded because Snowden might have been on board, and threatened trade sanctions against any country that offered him asylum.

If there is one thing I admire about the current administration, is that they can say such massive bullshit in public without once grimacing or laughing while doing so, something the very best actors would struggle to manage.

Anonymous Coward says:

We need to re-establish an expectation of privacy

His legal interpretation relies heavily on the idea that we have no expectation of privacy regarding data willingly given to a 3rd party -(and this is the part that blows me away) even if there is an understanding that the 3rd party treat the information as confidential . The precedent being bank records where even though people assume those records are confidential, the courts have allowed them to be routinely obtained by the federal government.

I would think that meta-data information exposing who we associate with would be worthy of even greater protection (in light of the 1st amendment freedom of assembly) than financial records. (Though I’d like to see the warrant-less bank records access put back in the genie bottle as well).

We need congress to establish that, given the fact that we store everything wth 3rd parties, we do in fact have expectations of privacy with those parties.

JWW (profile) says:

Re: We need to re-establish an expectation of privacy

I absolutely loved the email I got from AT&T in mid June telling me how much the “respect” my privacy when it comes to sharing my data with other companies.

I couldn’t believe it. I really could care less how they share anonymous data with other companies, I care about them giving all that identifiable information to my government so it can watch me!

DrSam says:

We are supposed to believe a liar?

This guy got elected promising he would be the most transparent Prez to date. Liar, liar, your pants are on fire! Many scandals later along with multitudinous amounts of secret meetings closed to outsiders, he is talking about being more transparent… When will the people of this precious country learn to recognize an amazing “BS”er?

Anonymous Coward says:

Joseph Stalin...

… replaced the New Economic Policy introduced by Lenin in the early 1920s with a highly centralised command economy, launching a period of industrialization and collectivization that resulted in the rapid transformation of the USSR from an agrarian society into an industrial power.

But he will always be remembered for instituting a campaign against alleged enemies of his regime called the Great Purge, in which hundreds of thousands were executed.

I wonder if President Obama hopes to be remembered for the Affordable Care Act?

Jose_X (profile) says:


Mike, you might have confused a review which has its details hidden from the public (and many believe that hiding is necessary to thwart attacks) with a public disclosing of the details of how the intelligence is gathered. The former is what Obama is talking about. The latter is something he (and many) are against (at least in the context of today).

These are different things. If one believes (as Obama does) that the intelligence details should be secret, that doesn’t mean you can’t put together a group of outside experts to independently analyze the details and report the results to the President, who may then have this further scrubbed of delicate information before presenting it to the public.

As long as this nation’s laws (and its Constitution) support having national secrets deemed necessary to preserve and protect the nation, you are not going to get that wish (if that’s your wish) of public disclosure of details of the programs on intelligence gathering. You will have to fight the President to have such a law passed to specifically detail certain things, and, even then, there might be a Constitutional fight. Not all Presidents might think that way, but Obama seems convinced.

Anyway, my point isn’t to claim the change that you want is not possible. Of course, you will have to first convince many Americans if you expect the gov reps to follow. My point is to note that Obama is doing what he probably feels is responsible or at least smart. I don’t see an inconsistency in calling for an independent group of outside experts to give their analysis to Obama (via the DNI contact).

BTW, the DNI does not control the details of any of these programs used by any of the various intelligence agencies. The DNI seems to be a central figure to help coordinate direction and serve as a focal point to the President.

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