What NSA reforms would mean for Americans (and everyone else)

Joshua Brustein writes: The White House just released the report from an advisory panel (PDF) suggesting changes to intelligence gathering surrounding communication technologies. The Obama administration doesn’t have to accept any of the 46 recommendations, of course, but if it does, it would mean some major shifts in the government’s approach to privacy, and critics of the National Security Agency are taking the proposals seriously. “We view it as a blueprint for restoring privacy protection in post-9/11 America,” says Marc Rotenberg, the president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Here’s what the policy recommendations would mean for three key groups.

American Citizens: The panel essentially calls for an end to fishing expeditions where the government collects a lot of information and holds on to it in case it becomes useful at some point. The report calls for an end to the collection and storage of metadata about phone communications, and the panel would prevent “mass, undigested, non-public personal information about individuals to enable future queries and data-mining for foreign intelligence purposes.” It also suggests tighter restrictions on specific requests for information.

This doesn’t mean loads of personal information shouldn’t be collected and stored. Instead, the panel suggests having private companies or a third party hold on to the information. If the government wants to get it, it would have to ask. This could provide a level of safety, since the private groups would presumably push back against such requests (although it seems telephone companies haven’t done much of that so far). But not everyone likes the idea. “What we’re concerned about is this is opening the door for mandatory data retention, meaning there is a massive database about everything you do,” says Kurt Opsahl, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The panel also wants to break up the duties of the NSA so that the military-related aspects of its work are separate from its defensive duties. Perhaps a civilian would be in charge. There are also various suggestions for tightening control of classified information to prevent the next coming of Edward Snowden. [Continue reading…]

Print Friendly, PDF & Email