The President’s speech on Friday, pre-empting the final report he commissioned on NSA restraints, is a good first step. So, we applaud a beginning in rolling back the Surveillance State aimed at the American people.
The civil liberties community appears vigilant on keeping the heat on the Administration to maintain a sharp eye on overreach by NSA and other intelligence agencies. This can only be good for the U.S. and our constitutional republic. Hopefully the public discussion on our security and constitutional protections against a tyrannical government and the over-emphasis on protecting the “homeland” and our so called exceptionalism will be expanded and a continual process.
Of particular note is the March 28 deadline for reauthorization of the Patriot Act by congress.
In my opinion, there is way too much emphasis on protecting us against “terrorism” compared to protecting our constitutional rights which has created our exceptionalism, if any really exists compared to other democracies around the world.
There is now much media parsing of language in the President’s speech, seeking clarification on many vaguely worded statements on possible surveillance reforms and this too is good. I prefer to leave this task to the lawyer class reviewing the initiatives and proposals. Here’s a quick review of major elements in his Friday statement.
l. He proposes an annual review of privacy implications of surveillance undertaken by federal agencies, including NSA, with a report each year delivered to congress.
2. Congress will be requested to authorize a panel of outside civil liberties advocates to argue in “significant” cases before the FISA court. This is new and very hopeful.
3. The Attorney General is to institute added restrictions on the government’s ability to retain, search and use communications between citizens and foreigners: section 702 of the FISA regulations regarding surveillance of suspected terrorist actions.
4. The FBI will be required to make changes in its national security letters regarding data searches on persons it is scrutinizing.
5. On phone records collection by NSA, the government will transition away from scrutinizing communications three steps away from subjects under scrutiny for potential threats against the U.S. to two steps away and only after a judicial finding on a “true emergency”.
6. Intel agencies, including NSA, will stop “spying” on U.S. allied world leaders.
What seems unaddressed at this point is the absence of whistle blower protections for employees of national security or intel agencies and their contractors. Snowden would fall into this category.
Clearly, pressure needs to be mounted on the Delaware congressional delegation on advocating for our civil liberties protections while considering the “protections” addressed in the Patriot Act reauthorization by March 28.