Obama's Panel: A Rebuke to the NSA, Vindication for Edward Snowden

In response to the contractor's leaks, prominent voices in all three branches of government have now called for reining in the surveillance state.
More
Joy Garnett/Flickr

A panel President Obama convened to assess the National Security Agency in the wake of Edward Snowden's leaks has issued a 308-page report with this message: To protect privacy, civil liberties, and security, the NSA ought to be reformed. 

The panel's 46 recommendations, all implicit critiques of the way the NSA operates now, would rein in the agency in many of the ways civil libertarians have urged. The timing of the report is significant, since it comes just after a federal judge issued a ruling calling the NSA's phone dragnet "almost Orwellian" and likely unconstitutional. In other words, despite surveillance state protestations that its programs are legal, unobjectionable, and subject to oversight by all three branches of government, assessments of the program after the Snowden leaks have now resulted in strong rebukes from a federal judge, numerous legislators, and now a committee formed by the president himself. 

Some of the most significant reforms suggested:

  • The government's storage of bulk metadata is a risk to personal privacy and civil liberty, and as a general rule, "the government should
    not be permitted to collect and store mass, undigested, non-public personal information about US persons." Following this recommendation would end the Section 215 collection of telephone-call records as now practiced. 
  • The conversations Americans have with people overseas should have more protection. 
  • There should be new limits on the ability of FISA courts or National Security Letters to compel third parties to turn over private business records. 
  • Telephone companies and Internet providers should be able to reveal general information about the amount of data that the government is requesting. 
  • Regular people in foreign countries should enjoy at least some protections against unconstrained NSA surveillance. 
  • The NSA should not intentionally weaken encryption or exploit security flaws in commercial software that have not yet been made public. 
  • The director of the NSA and the head of the U.S. military's cyber command should not be the same person.
  • The secret court that grants FISA requests should be an adversarial proceeding, not one in which the government gets to make its arguments unopposed.

There is much more to the report. I'll be discussing additional aspects of it in coming days, including its strengths and weaknesses. For now, the bullet points above are sufficient to draw this conclusion: A review convened by the executive branch has now called for significant reforms to virtually every program made public by the Snowden leaks.

If a government employee or contractor leaks classified information to the press, and the result is a judicial finding that the government has violated the Fourth Amendment, multiple pieces of bipartisan reform legislation circulating Congress, and a review for the president that suggests reforms to multiple secret programs, what do you call the leak? I call it whistleblowing. 

Jump to comments
Presented by

Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What's the Number One Thing We Could Do to Improve City Life?

A group of journalists, professors, and non-profit leaders predict the future of livable, walkable cities


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Politics

Just In