updated 12:45 pm EST, Fri January 17, 2014
Collected data to be handed to third party, judicial findings required for access
The United States government will reform the way it uses surveillance data, President Barack Obama has announced. Addressing concerns over the National Security Agency (NSA) and the various programs employed to monitor potential threats, Obama outlined a number of changes in how the data will be accessed by security agencies as he attempts to ease the concerns of US citizens.
The major change in the Presidential Policy Directive revolves around the bulk collection of data currently performed by the NSA and other agencies under the Patriot Act. Collected metadata under Section 215 of the act, such as logs of calls between phone numbers, will be provided to an unnamed but independent third party rather than being controlled by the government itself.
In order to access the data, the government would require a judicial finding before being able to access the database, with an advocate for the third party required to be present when a request is made before the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court. The third party has yet to be decided, and though a presidential advisory panel has recommended that telephone companies should take the role, the companies themselves are apparently against the idea.
President Barack Obama
The government will also need to increase accuracy in terms of targeting subjects for the database, with the current standard of phone numbers being three steps removed from a terrorist organization changed to require just two steps. Extra periodic audits will be put in place to check that citizen data is protected, along with annual reviews of policies relating to data collection and analysis. Obama compared the collection of data by the NSA with the data-mining efforts performed by companies, such as advertisers, though he also declared that the standards for government surveillance "should be higher" than those of Google or other businesses. Saying that this is just the start of reforms, Obama advised "this effort will not be completed overnight," but wanted America to know "that the work has begun."
Despite the reforms and concerns of Americans, Obama argued for the continued existence of the programs by talking about earlier intelligence methods in times of conflict. He was careful to assure those on both sides of the discussion that "those who are troubled by our existing programs are not interested in a repeat of 9/11, [and] those who defend the programs are not dismissive of civil liberties," advising that the challenge was to get "the details right" -- a signal that compromise between the two positions was likely to be the path forward.
The monitoring of foreign leaders will also be curtailed, with eavesdropping of such individuals to be stopped, unless there is a "compelling national security purpose." Obama said that "leaders of our close friends and allies deserve to know that if I want to learn what they think about an issue, I will pick up the phone and call them, rather than turning to surveillance," advised Obama, though he did jab at similar international plans by not apologizing for the eavesdropping, due to the NSA's effectiveness of data collection compared to others.