Obama Announces Steps to Advance Surveillance Debate
Aug. 9, 2013 By Cheryl Pellerin – American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON– President Barack Obama today announced four steps that he said would move the public debate forward about classified government surveillance programs that gather data about the telephone records of Americans and others.
During an hour-long press conference at the White House, Obama said it is right to ask questions about surveillance, particularly as technology reshapes every aspect of people’s lives.
“I’m also mindful of how these issues are viewed overseas …,” he said. “In other words, it’s not enough for me as president to have confidence in these programs. The American people need to have confidence in them as well.”
Over the past few weeks the president said he has consulted with members of Congress, asked the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to review tensions between counterterrorism efforts and American values, and directed the national security team to be more transparent and pursue reforms of laws and practices.
“Today,” Obama said, “I’d like to discuss four specific steps — not all inclusive, but some specific steps that we’re going to be taking very shortly to move the debate forward.”
These include the following —
Obama called the program an important tool in the effort to disrupt terrorist plots that does not allow the government to listen to phone calls without a warrant.
“But given the scale of this program,” he said, “I understand the concerns of those who would worry that it could be subject to abuse.”
After speaking with members of Congress and civil libertarians, Obama said he thinks there are steps that can be taken to give Americans more confidence that there are safeguards against abuse.
“For instance,” he said, “we can take steps to put in place greater oversight, greater transparency and constraints on the use of this authority.”
2. The president will work with Congress to improve public confidence in oversight conducted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISC.
Congress created this court to provide judicial review of certain intelligence activities so a federal judge must find that federal actions are consistent with the Constitution.
But to build greater confidence, Obama said, “I think we should consider some additional changes to the FISC. One of the concerns that people raise is that a judge reviewing a request from the government to conduct programmatic surveillance only hears one side of the story — may tilt it too far in favor of security, may not pay enough attention to liberty.”
The president said looking at such issues from the perspectives of security and privacy might provide greater assurances to the public.
Specifically, he said, “we can take steps to make sure civil liberties, concerns, have an independent voice in appropriate cases by ensuring the government’s position is challenged by an adversary.”
3. The president said the government can and must be more transparent.
The president said he’s directed the intelligence community to make public as much information about these programs as possible.
“We’ve already declassified unprecedented information about the [National Security Agency] but we can go further,” he said. “So at my direction the Department of Justice will make public the legal rationale for the government’s collection activities under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.”
The NSA is taking steps to put in place a full-time civil liberties and privacy officer, Obama said, and release information that details its mission, authorities and oversight.
The intelligence community is also creating a website that will serve as a hub for further transparency, the president said.
“This will give Americans and the world the ability to learn more about what our intelligence community does and what it doesn’t do, how it carries out its mission and why it does so,” Obama said.
4. The president is forming a high-level group of outside experts to review all intelligence and communications technologies.
“We need new thinking for a new era,” Obama said. “We now have to unravel terrorist plots by finding a needle in a haystack of global telecommunications. And meanwhile, technology has given governments, including our own, unprecedented capability to monitor communications.”
The president is tasking the independent group to review U.S. capabilities, particularly surveillance technologies.
“They’ll consider how we can maintain the trust of the people, how we can make sure that there absolutely is no abuse in terms of how these surveillance technologies are used, ask how surveillance impacts our foreign policy, particularly in an age when more and more information is becoming public,” Obama said.
The group will provide an interim report in 60 days and a final report by year’s end, he said, “so we can move forward with a better understanding of how these programs impact our security, our privacy and our foreign policy.”
To others around the world, Obama said he wants to make clear that America is not interested in spying on ordinary people.
“Our intelligence is focused above all on finding the information that’s necessary to protect our people — and in many cases, protect our allies,” he said.
“It’s true, we have significant capabilities,” he added. “What’s also true is we show a restraint that many governments around the world don’t even think to do …. That includes, by the way, some of America’s most vocal critics.”
This is how the United States will resolve its differences, the president said. “Through vigorous public debate guided by our constitution, with reverence for our history as a nation of laws, and with respect for the facts.”
President Obama and various members of Congress are currently working to change laws on survelliance that were introduced by the 2001 Patriot Act:
Changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Feinstein (D)
ANNA ESHOO (D) INTRODUCES BILL TO END SURVEILLANCE OF AMERICANS BY U.S. INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D) Co-Sponsors Bipartisan Bill to Reform NSA Spying Policies
Potential Changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) – House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rogers (R)
USA Freedom Act – Rep. Sesenbrenner (R)
1/17/14 President Obama delivers remarks on Intelligence Programs Reforms
Key Points From President Obama’s 1/17/14 Speech:
“today, I can announce a series of concrete and substantial reforms that my Administration intends to adopt administratively or will seek to codify with Congress.
First, I have approved a new presidential directive for our signals intelligence activities, at home and abroad. This guidance will strengthen executive branch oversight of our intelligence activities. It will ensure that we take into account our security requirements, but also our alliances; our trade and investment relationships, including the concerns of America’s companies; and our commitment to privacy and basic liberties. And we will review decisions about intelligence priorities and sensitive targets on an annual basis, so that our actions are regularly scrutinized by my senior national security team.
Second, we will reform programs and procedures in place to provide greater transparency to our surveillance activities, and fortify the safeguards that protect the privacy of U.S. persons. Since we began this review, including information being released today, we have declassified over 40 opinions and orders of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which provides judicial review of some of our most sensitive intelligence activities – including the Section 702 program targeting foreign individuals overseas and the Section 215 telephone metadata program. Going forward, I am directing the Director of National Intelligence, in consultation with the Attorney General, to annually review – for the purpose of declassification – any future opinions of the Court with broad privacy implications, and to report to me and Congress on these efforts. To ensure that the Court hears a broader range of privacy perspectives, I am calling on Congress to authorize the establishment of a panel of advocates from outside government to provide an independent voice in significant cases before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
Third, we will provide additional protections for activities conducted under Section 702, which allows the government to intercept the communications of foreign targets overseas who have information that’s important for our national security. Specifically, I am asking the Attorney General and DNI to institute reforms that place additional restrictions on government’s ability to retain, search, and use in criminal cases, communications between Americans and foreign citizens incidentally collected under Section 702.
Fourth, in investigating threats, the FBI also relies on National Security Letters, which can require companies to provide specific and limited information to the government without disclosing the orders to the subject of the investigation. These are cases in which it is important that the subject of the investigation, such as a possible terrorist or spy, isn’t tipped off. But we can – and should – be more transparent in how government uses this authority. I have therefore directed the Attorney General to amend how we use National Security Letters so this secrecy will not be indefinite, and will terminate within a fixed time unless the government demonstrates a real need for further secrecy. We will also enable communications providers to make public more information than ever before about the orders they have received to provide data to the government.”
For the entire speech: http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/read-obama-s-full-remarks-on-nsa-surveillance-reforms
.January 17, 2014
FACT SHEET: Review of U.S. Signals Intelligence
In the latter half of 2013 and early 2014, the United States Government undertook a broad-ranging and unprecedented review of our signals intelligence programs, led by the White House with relevant Departments and Agencies across the Government. In addition to our own intensive work, the review process drew on input from key stakeholders, including Congress, the tech community, civil society, foreign partners, the Review Group on Intelligence and Communication Technologies, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, and others. The Administration’s review examined how, in light of new and changing technologies, we can use our intelligence capabilities in a way that optimally protects our national security while supporting our foreign policy, respecting privacy and civil liberties, maintaining the public trust, and reducing the risk of unauthorized disclosures. On January 17, 2014, the President delivered a speech at the Department of Justice to announce the outcomes of this review process.