The President has been saying that he plans to overhaul the National Security Agency, but his most recent decision isn’t what most people had in mind – he has asked the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court to prevent the deletion of phone records that would normally have been deleted after they were five years old to be used as evidence in suits brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and other advocacy groups who are challenging the NSA’s blanket surveillance tactics, reports Devlin Barrett for The Wall Street Journal.
If the logs are kept in this way, the President’s directive would bar NSA Analysts from accessing it, so claims that the surveillance program itself has been extended may be overblown. Still, after so much trust has been lost any decision to hang on to private information for longer should draw some skepticism.
Obama’s four options for change
Under the existing program, the government keeps data on every phone call that involves at least one person in the US. Obama has previously said that the government will no longer keep such phone records, but not because he wants them to be inaccessible. Obama has been presented with four different options for removing the logs from the NSA database: have a different federal agency (such as the FBI) do the same surveillance and maintain the same phone records, require phone companies to keep the records instead of the NSA and then present that information to the government on request, involve a third party company to store the records for the government, or get rid of the program, reports Amar Toor for The Verge.
The first three proposed reforms seem to miss the point; Americans are upset about the level of domestic spying, changing who does the spying isn’t likely to comfort them even if it does technically fulfill Obama’s pledge to get rid of the NSA phone logs by next month. Intelligence experts worry that abolishing the program altogether will hamper the government’s ability to identify national security threats.
FISA Court could get a public advocate
Other reforms that Obama is strongly considering to reform NSA spying programs are to extend certain protections that currently only apply to US citizens to non-citizens, and having a public advocate present at all FISA court hearings to attack the government’s case, but nothing is set in stone and with such strong disagreement between different parties, whatever he ends up proposing will be controversial.