Gov. Review Panel Discusses Recommendations for NSA Changes
December 19, 2013 2:15 PM
The panel has made 46 recommendations; Vladimir Putin says surveillance needed to fight terrorism
The presidential review panel tasked with creating recommendations for limitations on the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has spoken, and it's looking to
end the bulk collection of data
, the panel has made 46 recommendations regarding greater restraint on the NSA's surveillance programs, which will have to be accepted by President Barack Obama and U.S. Congress before being put into practice.
One of the
involves the elimination of bulk collection of phone call records (known as "metadata"). The NSA said it collected metadata in bulk and filtered through it afterward in an attempt to make connections when searching for terrorist threats.
However, the panel said that this method of data collection hasn't proved to be more effective or beneficial than more targeted forms. It further stated that the program has made "modest" contributions at best, and that there's no proof the outcome would have been any different without the metadata bulk collection.
"The question is not whether granting the government (this) authority makes us incrementally safer, but whether the additional safety is worth the sacrifice in terms of individual privacy, personal liberty and public trust," said the panel.
The NSA has defended the bulk collection of metadata, saying it's necessary to keep the country safe. NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander even said it's the only way the NSA can "connect the dots."
"How do we connect the dots?" said Alexander. "There is no other way that we know of to connect the dots. Taking these programs off the table is absolutely not the thing to do."
Last month, Democratic Sens. Mark Udall (Colo.), Ron Wyden (Ore.) and Martin Heinrich (N.M.) filed a brief in support of a lawsuit that aims to
end the NSA's bulk collection
of phone records.
Another big recommendation from the panel was to conduct five tests before Washington decides to spy on foreign leaders: U.S. leaders should determine whether such surveillance is merited by major threats to national security; whether the other nation involved has leaders we should accord a high degree of respect and deference; whether there is reason to believe the foreign leader has been deceitful; whether there are other ways to obtain the information, and weigh the negative consequences if the surveillance were to become public knowledge.
Yet another major recommendation is the limitation of on National Security Letters, which allow certain government agencies demand business records from both individuals and companies without any independent or judicial review. The panel said these letters should only be issued after a judicial review, and gag orders should also be limited.
Russian President Vladimir Putin recently
weighed in on the NSA recommendations
, saying that surveillance programs are necessary to combat terrorism and that monitoring large numbers of people will expose terrorist links. However, he also mentioned, "on a political level, it's necessary to limit the appetite of special services with certain rules."
He further added that Moscow is not "controlling" Snowden, and that the Russian government has not asked Snowden for NSA secrets.
The NSA has been under the microscope ever since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked details about the NSA's secret spy programs to the media earlier this year. In August, reports said that the NSA admitted to
touching 1.6 percent of total globe Web traffic
. Its technique was to filter data after harvesting it, which led to over-collection on a major scale. It was later revealed that Snowden conned between 20 to 25 NSA employees to
give him their login credentials and passwords
while working at the NSA regional operations center for a month in Hawaii last spring. Snowden reportedly told the NSA employees that he needed their passwords in order to do his job, and after downloading secret NSA documents, he leaked the information to the media.
The NSA is debating whether to
grant Snowden amnesty
if he promises to keep his mouth shut. It is believed that Snowden had access to about 1.7 million files, and only about 1 percent of those files have been published by the media. Recognizing that a lot more could roll down the pipeline, the NSA is likely trying to prevent further catastrophe.
met with tech leaders
earlier this week to discuss partnerships and solutions for major technical issues in the government, such as HealthCare.gov, the NSA surveillance programs and unauthorized intelligence disclosures.
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