Obama To Announce Weak Reforms To NSA Surveillance Powers

Giuseppe Macri Tech Editor
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President Obama will announce on Tuesday subtle changes to National Security Agency surveillance powers, which have evaded significant reform from both Congress and the administration in the year and a half since the Snowden leaks.

Under the forthcoming changes, information swept up incidentally from Americans during NSA’s bulk data collection operations will be deleted, provided it contains no intelligence value. Similar private data swept up during foreign collection is routinely deleted every five years.

According to The New York Times, those changes will also include the establishment of an oversight board to review the signals intelligence agency’s monitoring of foreign leaders — a direct response to the last year’s revelation that NSA had successfully tapped a phone belonging to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The chancellor is scheduled to visit the U.S. next week.

Lastly, the changes will shed light on the use of National Security Letters used by NSA, FBI and other agencies to force companies to hand over corporate records relevant to national security investigations. Such letters, which were once required to be kept secret, will now be made public.

The changes come little over a year after Obama announced the findings of an executive committee set up to review NSA powers after broad, sweeping and often warrantless data collection programs were leaked to journalists by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Recommendations by the panel announced by the president last year included shutting down NSA’s bulk surveillance of virtually all Americans’ telephone records and data, moving the storage of such records to a third party, requiring the agency to adhere to stricter warrant standards and narrower search criteria, and the establishment of a privacy advocate to work with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to review such orders. (RELATED: The Only NSA Reform To Pass Congress Is About To Be Removed In The Shutdown Bill)

All of those changes and more were included in National Security Agency reform legislation put before before both chambers of Congress last year, but which was ultimately defeated by Senate Republicans at the end of the legislative session. (RELATED: Senate Sinks NSA Reform)

Obama has also been unwilling to use his own authority to shut down a key part of the program, which requires the president’s approval every 90 days. Obama has continually signed off on its renewal at every interval since the leaks in the summer of 2013. (RELATED: Obama Administration Reauthorizes Bulk NSA Phone Spying Program, Again)

“As Americans, we cherish our civil liberties, and we need to uphold that commitment if we want maximum cooperation from other countries and industry in our fight against terrorist networks,” Obama said during last month’s State of the Union address. “Next month, we’ll issue a report on how we’re keeping our promise to keep our country safe while strengthening privacy.”

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