White House team recommends ending bulk NSA surveillance

Giuseppe Macri Tech Editor
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A commission of experts assembled by President Barack Obama at the height of the summer’s breaking National Security Agency surveillance scandals has recommended ending widespread domestic spying by the NSA, and outlined plans to do so.

Based on testimony from persons familiar with the matter, The Wall Street Journal reports the agency would undergo some major overhauls under the team’s recommendations, including transitioning control of all U.S. metadata and phone call records to a third-party organization or communications service providers themselves. The NSA would then have to pass a new set of standards to access and search the data specifically.

Recommendations also included appointing a civilian to head the signals interception and intelligence agency as opposed to a traditional military appointee, with the rational that a non-military persona would better draw the line of distinction between public safety, privacy and civil liberties.

As of now, bulk collection is justified under the recently well-known Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act — but phone and location-collection programs revealed in recent weeks are legally more dubious. During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing earlier this week with NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander, the director argued that there is no Fourth Amendment right to privacy concerning metadata, and that new regulations on the agency could put American lives at risk.

Democratic Intelligence Committee Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado, along with Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin — the original PATRIOT Act author — have been calling for changes and proposing legislation that lines up with the team’s proposals.

The commission of outside intelligence and privacy experts was announced in August when Obama publicly acknowledged the need for greater transparency into the spy agency’s burgeoning capabilities.

A full report is due to the administration on Sunday, but it is unknown whether the White House will make it public.

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