McClatchy reports: President Barack Obama has announced the names of the five members of a task force to examine the National Security Agency’s controversial collection of Internet and cell phone records, but privacy and open government advocates say they don’t believe the panel is likely to be very critical of the NSA program.
At the time Obama announced the panel’s creation Aug. 9, anger at the extent of the NSA collection efforts was at its height, and the president’s move was intend to calm growing congressional calls for curbs on the program. Obama said the panel would be made up of outside experts and would review the government’s use of its intelligence-gathering capabilities and whether it adhered to constitutional standards.
“The review group will assess whether, in light of advancements in communications technologies, the United States employs its technical collection capabilities in a manner that optimally protects our national security and advances our foreign policy while appropriately accounting for other policy considerations, such as the risk of unauthorized disclosure and our need to maintain the public trust,” a White House memorandum on the panel said.
But advocates note that four of the five people named to the panel last week have long histories in government or in the intelligence community, and they said that made it unlikely the panel would be critical of the government’s practices when it completes its required final report, which is due on Dec. 15.
Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ project on Government Secrecy, said even the panel’s assignment misses the major concerns that have been expressed about the NSA programs, which had been kept largely secret from the public until their extent was leaked in June by fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
“Basically, they’re saying, ‘Well how can we optimize surveillance while taking privacy in to account?’ Aftergood said. But what people really want to know is whether the NSA violates the law and the Constitution, he added. “I’m not sure that that sense of urgency has been adequately communicated to the review board.” [Continue reading…]