Obama Announces Plans for NSA: Is it Enough?

Have you ever seen a more ominous building? Source: National Security Agency.

President Barack Obama spoke Friday on necessary changes to the National Security Agency and how things would be moving forward in future. Following Edward Snowden’s NSA document release, attention has become increasingly focused on NSA privacy violations and its phone data collection. Technology companies too have been insisting on reform, with heads of major companies meeting with the president in recent months.

In his speech Friday, Obama outlined key concerns in privacy and security, and addressed those actions he plans to take. “I have approved a new presidential directive for our signals intelligence activities both at home and abroad. This guidance will strengthen executive branch oversight of our intelligence activities. We will review decisions about intelligence priorities and sensitive targets on an annual basis so that our actions are regularly scrutinized by my senior national security team,” said Obama, according to the White House Press Release.

He also spoke on greater transparency within the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. “To ensure that the court hears a broader range of privacy perspectives, I am also calling on Congress to authorize the establishment of a panel of advocates from outside government to provide an independent voice in significant cases before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court,” said Obama.

Communications monitoring of foreign targets is also up for reform, as are a number of other items. As a whole, his plan has received somewhat critical responses from some who hoped it would go further. “I didn’t hear any lessening of the spying on Americans or collecting records of Americans. I heard, ‘Trust me, I’m going to put some more safeguards in place but I’m going to keep right on collecting each American’s records,” said Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), according to the Wall Street Journal.

Senator Paul is referring to the bulk collection of phone records that has been garnering increasing attention since it was brought to light. “This brings me to the program that has generated the most controversy these past few months — the bulk collection of telephone records under Section 215. This program does not involve the content of phone calls, or the names of people making calls — it provides a record of phone numbers and the times and lengths of calls,” said Obama in his speech, adding that he still understands the many concerns and desires for its limitation.

“I am therefore ordering a transition that will end the Section 215 metadata program as it currently exists, and establish a mechanism that preserves the capabilities we need without the government holding this bulk metadata,” he said Friday.

“The president and intelligence community have repeatedly misled Congress and the American people and lack credibility for reform. The bottom line is real reform cannot be done by presidential fiat,” said Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), according to the Wall Street Journal.

Many other members of Congress echoed the need for more Congressional input for a truly effective reform, though some cast his decision in a more positive light. Democrats and Republicans alike spoke for legislative action. Representative Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said after Obama’s speech that legislative action would be needed. “Though the steps announced today are important, it will be up to Congress to implement many of these changes, as well as others, and to ensure that they are durable across future administrations,” said Schiff, reports the Wall Street Journal.

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