Barton Gellman reports: President Obama said Friday, in his first major speech on electronic surveillance, that “the United States is not spying on ordinary people who don’t threaten our national security.”
Obama placed restrictions on access to domestic phone records collected by the National Security Agency, but the changes he announced will allow it to continue — or expand — the collection of personal data from billions of people around the world, Americans and foreign citizens alike.
Obama squares that circle with an unusually narrow definition of “spying.” It does not include the ingestion of tens of trillions of records about the telephone calls, e-mails, locations and relationships of people for whom there is no suspicion of relevance to any threat.
In his speech, and an accompanying policy directive, Obama described principles for “restricting the use of this information” — but not for gathering less of it.
Alongside the invocation of privacy and restraint, Obama gave his plainest endorsement yet of “bulk collection,” a term he used more than once and authorized explicitly in Presidential Policy Directive 28. In a footnote, the directive defined the term to mean high-volume collection “without the use of discriminants.” [Continue reading…]