Under pressure to reform the government’s surveillance activities, President Obama has promised to work with Congress to put constraints on the government’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records, among a series of reforms to the intelligence community. Obama made the announcement during a news conference at the White House Friday, more than two months after the Guardian and Washington Post began publishing stories on the National Security Agency’s activities based on documents obtained by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Obama announced four areas of reform, including revising section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, under which the NSA gathers Americans’ phone records, which has prompted strong objections from both the privacy community and members of Congress.
The president also promised to reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), which oversees the surveillance programs, by making the court’s proceedings more "adversarial." Already being pushed by members of Congress and the civil liberties community, the goal is to make sure that on issues of particular importance, the court will not only hear the government’s argument but also hear from a special advocate arguing on behalf of the public’s privacy rights and civil liberties.
Thirdly, Obama pledged more transparency into the government’s programs and the legal justifications for them, including releasing the government’s rationale for the phone records program. Finally, Obama called for an independent panel of experts to review the government’s surveillance capabilities as well as the privacy risks of that surveillance. He promised a draft report from the group in 60 days and a final report by the end of the year.
The announcement comes as momentum grows in Congress to reform the surveillance apparatus, including proposals to rein in the surveillance state. In addition to these reforms, lawmakers and privacy advocates have put pressure on the White House to increase transparency and declassify as much information as possible, including some of the FISC’s legal opinions.
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Obama called the proposals part of a “rebalancing” between security and civil liberties concerns.