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The NSA’s rough week just got even worse

Published Dec 19th, 2013 7:30PM EST
NSA Panel Recommendations

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Back in August, not long after Edward Snowden began leaking details about NSA surveillance programs, President Obama created a panel to review the NSA’s data surveillance practices and recommend changes. Yesterday, the panel released its 308-page report and recommended 46 changes, including ending the collection of phone call metadata, which the panel says “creates potential risks to public trust, personal privacy, and civil liberty.” Instead, phone companies or other private entities should control the data, and it should only be accessed with an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC).

“We have identified a series of reforms that are designed to safeguard the privacy and dignity of American citizens, and to promote public trust, while also allowing the intelligence community to do what must be done to respond to genuine threats,” the panel wrote. “Free nations must protect themselves, and nations that protect themselves must remain free.”

Additionally, the panel recommended that:

  • The NSA should have a separate leader from the United States Cyber Command.
  • The NSA director should be confirmed by the U.S. Senate
  • The president should appoint a civilian to head the NSA.
  • A Public Interest Advocate should be created to argue for citizens’ privacy and protection of civil liberties.
  • The president should make national intelligence and surveillance decisions, not the intelligence community.
  • The FISC judges should be chosen by more Supreme Court justices than just the Chief Justice.
  • Foreigners should expect the same level of privacy protection as put forward in the Privacy Act of 1974.

Overall, these changes were received positively by civil rights groups. The recommendations go much further than most expected. President Obama will review these recommendations and announce his decisions in January. According to The New York Times, a senior administration official said Obama is “open to many” of the recommendations. While some of the recommendations would only require Obama’s approval, many would also need Congressional action.

These recommendations come after a tough week for the NSA. On Monday, a federal judge ruled that the collection of phone call metadata by the NSA was “almost Orwellian,” and on Tuesday, skeptical leaders of the tech community met with President Obama to discuss the NSA’s tactics.