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Panel will tell Obama to end NSA phone record collection

December 18, 2013 by NCC Staff


President Barack Obama is releasing a critical report today about the National Security Agency that calls for more than 40 major reforms, after parts of the report were leaked to the press last week.

The report is a set of non-binding recommendations for the White House. President Obama has said previously he would issue his own set or guidelines in January based on the report and other sources of information.

obamadronesThe president met with the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology earlier on Wednesday, a group that includes Richard Clarke, a former U.S. cybersecurity adviser; Michael Morell, a former deputy CIA director; Geoffrey Stone from the University of Chicago; Cass Sunstein from Harvard Law School; and Peter Swire from Georgia Tech.

Obama appointed the panel on August 9th in the wake of disclosures about NSA surveillance from former government analyst Edward Snowden.

The group was asked to find ways “the United States can employ its technical collection capabilities in a way that optimally protects our national security and advances our foreign policy while respecting our commitment to privacy and civil liberties, recognizing our need to maintain the public trust, and reducing the risk of unauthorized disclosure.”

Parts of the report surfaced in The Wall Street Journal last week. Four sources told the Journal about significant passages in the report, which was due in a draft form last Sunday.

Its biggest component is a move that allows citizens, and not the military, to be in charge of the NSA, the Journal said.

The proposal would also bar the NSA from keeping a massive collection of phone “metadata” at its premises. Instead, phone companies or a third-party designated by the government would keep the records, which include phone numbers, locations of calls and call durations.

The NSA would then need to prove a stricter standard of cause before it could obtain certain records.

President Obama's spokesman, Jay Carney, said the report was being released on Wednesday rather than in January because of “incomplete and inaccurate media reporting” about it.

Among the other reforms in the report are stricter protections for data obtained about people living in other countries, specifically, Europe;  tighter security clearance rules;and an end of requirements for companies to build "back door" programs to make it easier for the NSA to collect information.

The report also concluded that NSA programs technically followed the law, but dozens of changes were needed to promote transparency and tighten internal security.

The sudden decision to release the report comes after two days of high-profile news about the NSA.

On Monday, federal judge, Richard Leon, ruled that the U.S. government's bulk gathering of Americans' phone records is likely unconstitutional. Leon stayed an injunction in the case as the Obama administration plans to appeal, but legal experts said the opinion opens up new challenges to the NSA.

And on Tuesday, President Obama was grilled by a group on CEOs from major technology companies about the NSA’s surveillance programs.

The group, which included executives from Apple, Google, Yahoo!, and Facebook, was reportedly deeply upset with the NSA’s efforts to hack into computer systems in Europe, and expressed concerns about Brazil’s threats to force American companies to set up separate businesses in that nation if they wanted access to Brazilian customers.

The meeting also included a discussion about the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which approves blanket efforts by the NSA to collect phone and Internet data about American citizens, as well as foreign nationals.

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