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Obama Task Force: Limit NSA Snooping on Americans

Obama Task Force: Limit NSA Snooping on Americans

By    |   Wednesday, 18 December 2013 04:07 PM EST

A presidential advisory panel has recommended sweeping limits on the government's surveillance programs, including requiring a court to sign off on individual searches of phone records and stripping the National Security Agency of its ability to store that data from Americans..

While suggesting that the agency should be able to have access to some records, the panel said  it should not be able to store them and should get court approval to search individual data.

The White House released the report, by the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology, weeks ahead of schedule. It spans more than 300 pages — and President Barack Obama is not obligated to accept the panel's recommendations.

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The report comes a day after a federal judge ruled that the NSA’s secret collection of telephone records is unconstitutional and that it violated privacy rights.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon made the decision in a lawsuit brought against the government by Larry Klayman, founder of Judicial Watch and Freedom Watch.

Klayman on Tuesday on "The Steve Malzberg Show" called the ruling a "smart decision" that bolstered the Fourth Amendment.

The panel's recommendations include tightening federal law enforcement's use of so-called national security letters, which give the government sweeping authority to demand financial and phone records without prior court approval in national security cases. The task force recommended that authorities should be required to obtain a prior "judicial finding" showing "reasonable grounds" that the information sought is relevant to terrorism or other intelligence activities.

In addition, the panel proposed terminating the NSA's ability to store telephone data and instead require it to be held by the phone companies or a third party. Access to the data would then be permitted only through an order from a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

"With regard to the bulk metadata of phone calls, we think there should be judicial review before that information is accessed and we don't think the government should retain it," said Richard Clarke, a member of the five-person panel.

If both recommendations were enacted, it's likely they would slow down the intelligence collection process. The panel recommendations do allow for exceptions "in emergencies," leaving open the possibility of intelligence agencies scanning the information quickly and asking for permission later if they suspect imminent attack.

Although the task force did not recommend ending any of the NSA's daily sweeps of telephone and Internet data, as some critics urged, a senior lawyer for one influential privacy advocate group said the review group's recommendations would amount to "sweeping" changes in government policy if Obama accepts them in bulk.

The recommendations "will fuel the NSA reform effort both within the administration and in Congress," said Greg Nojeim, senior counsel with the Center for Democracy and Technology.

The panel also tackled the diplomatic furor over NSA spying on the leaders of allied nations, including Germany. The group recommended that the president personally approve such spying and that the decisions be based in part on whether the United States shares "fundamental values and interests" with the leaders of those nations.

"Just because we can doesn't mean we should," Clarke said.

The panel's other recommendations include:

  • Guidelines for establishing reciprocal nonspying agreements with the United States
  • Creation of a civil liberties policy official in the White House and at the Office of Management and Budget.
  • Changes to the vetting process for those trying to obtain security clearances, including requiring that the vetting process be ongoing for those accessing classified information.

Panel members said they did not think any of the recommendations would harm U.S. national security.

"We are not in any way recommending the disarming of the intelligence community," said Michael Morell, a task force member and former deputy director of the CIA. "We're not saying struggle against terrorism is over."

Obama ordered the group to submit recommendations following vicious attacks on the NSA after former contractor Edward Snowden leaked information about the agency’s widespread Internet and telephone surveillance programs earlier this year.

Snowden is now living under temporary asylum in Russia.

On Wednesday, Obama met with technology company officials — making no promises that the NSA would not limit its monitoring of Internet traffic.

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The president’s relationship with Silicon Valley, which largely supported his re-election bid, is being tested over the NSA disclosures.

Obama has said that he wants a solution that balances national security with privacy interests of U.S. citizens.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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A presidential advisory panel is recommending stripping the National Security Agency of its ability to store Americans' telephone records and requiring a court to sign off on individual searches of phone and Internet data.The panel does not recommend that the NSA stop...
Wednesday, 18 December 2013 04:07 PM
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