Two days after a federal judge determined the National Security Agency’s surveillance program likely violated the Fourth Amendment, the White House released a report calling for more transparency and disclosure, congressional oversight of the agency and requiring the NSA director be subject to Senate confirmation.
“In our view, the current storage by the government of bulk meta-data creates potential risks to public trust, personal privacy, and civil liberty,” the report states. “We recognize that the government might need access to such meta-data, which should be held instead either by private providers or by a private third party. This approach would allow the government access to the relevant information when such access is justified, and thus protect national security without unnecessarily threatening privacy and liberty.”
The 308-page report, titled “Liberty and Security in a Changing World,” had 46 recommendations for balancing security and privacy.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said President Barack Obama will not be making any immediate comment on the report. Obama met Wednesday with members of the review group, which he appointed in August after disclosures about the U.S. government’s surveillance programs.
“He’s not going to make snap judgments,” Carney said. “He’s going to look at it and assess it. As I said, the overall internal review won’t be completed until January. After that, the president will have more to say about it and more to say about the outcome of that work. So I wouldn’t anticipate those kinds of remarks or judgments being made today or this week.”
Obama received his copy of the report on Friday and discussed the matter with tech executives at a White House meeting Tuesday. Many of the leading tech companies have raised concerns about the privacy of their customers’ communications.
The Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies was made up of former government officials national security experts and privacy experts; former White House counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke, former acting director of the Central Intelligence Agency Michael Morell, law professor Geoffrey Stone, former Obama regulatory czar Cass Sunstein and the Clinton administration’s chief counselor for privacy issues Peter Swire.
The NSA’s massive data gathering of phone and email interactions was revealed by government contractor-turned-fugitive Edward Snowden and has proven one of the biggest headaches for much of Obama’s first year of his second term. With its metadata gathering, the NSA says it was not listening in on phone calls en masse, but did gather data on the calls Americans were making.
“Legislation should be enacted requiring information about surveillance programs to be made available to the Congress and to the American people to the greatest extent possible (subject only to the need to protect classified information),” the report said. “We also recommend that legislation should be enacted authorizing telephone, Internet, and other providers to disclose publicly general information about orders they receive directing them to provide information to the government.”
While critical of the current system, the report also criticized the poor vetting that allowed Snowden to have access to the data.
“Classified information should be shared only with those who genuinely need to know. We recommend specific changes to improve the efficacy of the personnel vetting system,” the report said. “The use of “for-profit” corporations to conduct personnel investigations should be reduced or terminated. Security clearance levels should be further differentiated. Departments and agencies should institute a Work-Related Access approach to the dissemination of sensitive, classified information. Employees with high-level security clearances should be subject to a Personnel Continuous Monitoring Program.”
Carney was questioned as to whether this report would have been done without the Snowden leaks.
“Go back to the president’s speech earlier in the year before the disclosures,” Carney said. “I think he spoke about the overall need to assess our posture in the aftermath of 10 years of war. It’s clear from what he said then, these issues, intelligence, and not just military operations were very much on his mind.”
In a statement of principles, the review group challenged the oft-repeated call for balance between security and freedom.
“It is tempting to suggest that the underlying goal is to achieve the right “balance” between the two forms of security. The suggestion has an important element of truth. But some safeguards are not subject to balancing at all,” the report said. “In a free society, public officials should never engage in surveillance in order to punish their political enemies; to restrict freedom of speech or religion; to suppress legitimate criticism and dissent; to help their preferred companies or industries; to provide domestic companies with an unfair competitive advantage; or to benefit or burden members of groups defined in terms of religion, ethnicity, race, and gender.”