Print 55 comment(s) - last by flatrock.. on Jan 21 at 11:52 AM

The changes to the NSA's surveillance programs will be announced at 11 a.m. (1600 GMT)

The U.S. National Security Agency's (NSA) surveillance programs are expected to see some big changes today, including the end of the NSA's handling of bulk telephone metadata.

According to a new report from Reuters, U.S. President Barack Obama will reveal the changes to the NSA's programs today at 11 a.m. (1600 GMT) at the Justice Department. 

Some of the changes expected are the elimination of the government's handling of bulk telephone metadata, and making a judicial finding required before looking to the database as a way of scaling back spying on American devices. 

Obama said the bulk data program could be necessary for countering terrorist attacks, but feels that it's important to find a comfortable balance between the use of this program and the privacy of American citizens. 

A presidential review panel suggested that bulk data be held by a third party (like telephone companies), but reports say Obama will not provide any specifics on who should hold the data today. 

While privacy advocates, Senate, and House Judiciary committees have all spoken out against the bulk metadata collection, the Intelligence committees of both the Senate and House have said they believed the telephone metadata program should stay the way it is. 

Back in December 2013, the presidential review panel 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. The recommendations were submitted that same month. 

One of the major recommendations 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 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." 

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.
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 early last year. In August 2013, 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.

Snowden told the media last month that his mission is complete after spending the last year leaking secret NSA documents. 

Source: Reuters

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RE: Blah blah blah...
By nafhan on 1/17/2014 4:05:06 PM , Rating: 2
"Nope, nope, that's not illegal! We've got a secret law that says so!" That's the point where the difference between legal and illegal becomes completely academic. Secret laws that circumvent the non-secret laws kind of defeats the whole point of representative government.

I also find "it's really helpful, but you'll have to trust us on that" to not be a very convincing argument.

Personally, I'd rather have slightly less national security, and not live in a police surveillance state. I gather you're on the other side of that fence, though.

RE: Blah blah blah...
By flatrock on 1/21/2014 11:52:18 AM , Rating: 2
None of the laws are secret. The basis is Smith v Maryland which ruled that we have no reasonable expectation of privacy regarding metadata held by third parties. The original context was a telephone pen register, but unless restricted by law or additional judicial rulings that narrow the scope it applies to similar things.

Congress responded to that ruling with the Pen Register Act, which placed some legal restrictions on pen registers since the court ruled there weren't any constitutional restrictions. The restrictions in the Pen Register Act are kind of a farce. All the government needs to do is say the data is related to an ongoing investigation in order to get a court order. It's an incredibly low legal barrier and even if they lie any evidence collected is still admissible because it's not a constitutional violation.
The PATRIOT Act clarified that the pen register act should apply to electronic communications. That merely clarified in law what the government was already doing, and since the Pen Register Act was such a pitiful excuse for legal restrictions on the government it was more of a clarification that the government had no intent to respect the privacy of such metadata.

This legal and privacy rights issue has been going on for decades. The fact that the Patriot Act expanded the meaning of a pen register got some media attention as well.

Just because the general public didn't bother to try to understand what rights advocates were telling them or for that matter care as long as they thought only other people would be targeted by a pen register, doesn't make these things secret.

There are courts who's rulings are classified. There are also normal criminal courts who's rulings are sealed at least for a time, so the FISA court isn't as special in that respect as people seem to think. However, the FISA court's rulings aren't really inconsistent with other courts, and it actually appears that they made an effort to place additional restrictions on the NSA over what the laws explicitly dictate.

Personally, I'd rather have slightly less national security, and not live in a police surveillance state. I gather you're on the other side of that fence, though.

Not really. I think Smith v Maryland was an absolutely horrible ruling, and I think that Congressmen claiming to be surprised and upset about the NSA programs, yet aren't proposing new legislation are either deceitful, or complete morons.

The administration saying they will make some mostly cosmetic changes will change nothing. The lack of legal and constitutional protections remains. The government has the exact same authority, and we are still in a position of trusting them not to abuse it.

Whining about illegal acts by the NSA is counterproductive. The simple fact is that they aren't illegal, and unless the courts change the precedent they aren't unconstitutional either. We can argue over if they should be constitutional all we want, but according to that same Constitution the Supreme Court's opinion is the one that matters.

We need to be harassing Congress into legislating additional protections for our data that is in third party hands. We also need to hope that some of the appeals make it to the Supreme Court and that this effort by the administration isn't enough to derail the appeals.

The intelligence community is actually a very law abiding group of people. The requirements for attaining and retaining their clearances make it very unlikely that they will be otherwise, though there will always be a small number of exceptions. What is getting lost in the coverage of these issues is that the NSA is generally performing their duties as best they can within the bounds of the law and the constitution. It's the law and the interpretation of the Constitution that are broken.

"A politician stumbles over himself... Then they pick it out. They edit it. He runs the clip, and then he makes a funny face, and the whole audience has a Pavlovian response." -- Joe Scarborough on John Stewart over Jim Cramer

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