Scorecard for Obama's NSA reforms


Tomorrow, Obama will announce his long-awaited reforms to the NSA. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has produced a score-card (with detailed commentary) describing the minimum set of reforms that would be compatible with the rule of law and a free and fair democracy. It makes a handy crib-sheet to use while you're watching the press-conference -- you can print out one for each of your friends and discuss it around the TV during your NSA press-conference party:

1. Stop mass surveillance of digital communications and communication records.
It doesn’t matter what legal authority is being cited—whether it’s the Patriot Act, the FISA Amendments Act, or an executive order—the government should not be sweeping up massive amounts of information by and about innocent people first, then sorting out whether any of its targets are included later. The NSA has disingenuously argued that simply acquiring this data isn’t actually "collecting" and that no privacy violation can take place unless the information it stores is actually seen by a human or comes up through an automated searches of what it has collected. That’s nonsense. The government’s current practices of global dragnet surveillance constitute general warrants that violate the First and Fourth Amendments, and fly in the face of accepted international human rights laws. Obama needs to direct the NSA to engage only in targeted surveillance and stop its programs of mass surveillance, something he can do with a simple executive order.

2. Protect the privacy rights of foreigners.
The NSA's surveillance is based upon the presumption that foreigners are fair game, whether their information is collected inside the US or outside the US. But non-suspect foreigners shouldn't have their communications surveilled any more than non-suspect Americans. The review group recommended limited protections for non-US persons and while that is a good start, the president should do more to ensure that actual suspicion is required before either targeted or untargeted surveillance of non-US persons.

3. Don’t turn communications companies into the new Big Brother: no data retention mandate.
Obama’s review group recommended ending the NSA’s telephone records program, which we strongly agree with, but then indicated that a reasonable substitute would be to force American communications companies to store the data themselves and make it available to the government. The group ultimately recommended a data retention mandate if companies won’t comply voluntarily. But companies shouldn’t be pressed into becoming the NSA’s agents by keeping more data than they need or keeping it longer than they need to. To the contrary, companies should be working on ways to store less user data for less time—decreasing the risks from data breaches and intrusions like the one that just happened to Target. Data retention heads in the wrong direction for our security regardless of whether the government or private parties store the information.

Scorecard: Will Obama Hit the Mark on Real NSA Reform?

Notable Replies

  1. I predict minimal scores. This is Obama, who betrayed every position he held as a senator on these issues.

    No way will he actually do anything meaningful.

  2. Law of headlines asking questions wins again ('No').

    Even if he does say something that sounds like he's getting tough, it will just end up like his Big Plan on transferring drone killings from the CIA to the DoD... going absolutely nowhere.

  3. churba says:

    As a Foreigner, at least, to people in the US, I suppose, I've got to give the EFF props on one particular point above the others - they're literally the first American Organization, or even just American anything, giving a single shit about the NSA violating the privacy of non-Americans. It was always met with an "It's not your issue, it's ours" or even worse, "Yeah, but it's okay to spy on you, because everybody spies on everybody else, we just don't want them spying on US."

    Which is funny, because I don't recall the bill of rights being phrased as "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, unless you're not American, in which case you can fuck right off."

  4. IMB says:

    I think it's implied.

  5. NSA Reform Drinking Game! Skull your beer whenever you tick a box! Drive home stone cold fucking sober!

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