President Obama on Friday held a press conference to address the growing public concern over the National Security Agency's surveillance practices, promised greater oversight and transparency and added there is no interest in snooping on ordinary citizens.
Obama acknowledged that Americans were uncomfortable with the surveillance that has been leaked to the media (and noted that he would be as well, if he weren't in the government). He made four commitments to transparency and reform during the press conference, and also published a whitepaper describing the legal interpretation of the PATRIOT Act that is used to attempt to justify bulk surveillance.
While we're glad Obama is responding to the public's concerns, we take Obama's promises today with a healthy dose of skepticism. He may be paying lip service to accountability and transparenc, but the devil will be in the details when it comes to whether his proposals will be effective.
Other promises aside, President Obama did not commit to reducing the surveillance of Americans' communications or the communications of individuals abroad who are not suspected of any crime.
Obama made 4 commitments around NSA surveillance:
- Obama will work with Congress to "pursue appropriate reforms to Section 215 of the Patriot Act." This is the subsection of law used to justify the bulk collection of telephone records. However, Obama did not address Sec. 702, the other statute that the government has cited as supporting its broader surveillance, including the content of communications.
- Obama will work with Congress to improve public confidence in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) by creating a public advocate that can defend privacy in the court.
- Obama has directed the intelligence community "to make public as much information about these programs as possible." First, "these programs" must include "all surveillance programs," not just those that have been leaked so far. The NSA is supposed to put in place a full time civil liberties and privacy officer and create a website that details its surveillance practices.
- Obama is creating a "high level group of outside experts to review our entire intelligence and communications technologies." This group will be tasked with creating an interim report in 60 days and a final report by the end of the year that should address the impact of surveillance technologies, including potential abuses as well as the impact on foreign policy.