Obama's NSA Reform Proposals Spark Disappointment From Some

Some digital rights groups wanted an end to the NSA phone records program, but President Obama wants a transition to something similar

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Fri, January 17, 2014

IDG News Service (Washington, D.C., Bureau) — U.S. President Barack Obama's proposed changes to the National Security Agency's surveillance programs don't go far enough, some technology and digital rights groups said, while others hailed it as a good first step.

Obama called for a transition away from the NSA's bulk telephone records collection program and for a public advocate at the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, but he didn't back many of the prior recommendations from civil liberties groups and his own surveillance review board.

While Obama defended the bulk collection of U.S. phone records and called for a replacement program with similar capabilities, many civil liberties groups wanted the program to be killed off.

But Obama's speech will help move forward a conversation on surveillance and privacy, said Greg Nojeim, director of the Center for Democracy and Technology's Project on Freedom, Security and Surveillance. Obama's call for a replacement to the phone records program means he "added his support to a growing consensus that bulk collection of communications metadata by the NSA must end."

Still, the president's recommendations lacked specifics and didn't include a call for court orders targeting specific suspects, Nojeim said. "While we were pleased to see the president acknowledge that bulk collection by the NSA is untenable, we were disappointed in his failure to offer a clear path forward on these reforms," he said. "Storage of bulk records by companies or a third party would be merely a shuffling of the chairs, not a real reform."

The CDT published a scorecard Friday, comparing Obama's surveillance reform proposals to those of his Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology.

Obama's speech didn't address the NSA's attempts to weaken and circumvent Internet encryption or its ability to use Internet communications of U.S. residents that the agency inadvertently or incidentally acquires by targeting people abroad, the CDT noted.

"Far more needs to be done to restore the faith of the American people and repair the damage done globally to the U.S. reputation as a defender of human rights on the Internet," Nojeim said in an email.

Other reactions to the speech:

Dean Garfield, president and CEO of trade group the Information Technology Industry Council: "I am encouraged by what I heard. It's clear that the White House listened carefully to the concerns, reforms, and principles that the tech sector has submitted and made public. The changes and plans for international engagement that the president laid out today are an important step in restoring the public's trust in the U.S. government, as well as in the technology sector."

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