President Obama might just be remembering his slogan “Change We Can Believe In”, and he appears to be on the verge of adding a dash of “Yes We Can” into the mix. The Obama administration is considering a massive overhaul to the now infamous National Security Agency (NSA), which has apparently built up a massive spy agency reminiscent of Big Brother outlined by George Orwell all those years ago.
Apparently, the administration is considering extending privacy rights and considerations to foreign citizens and restructuring the phone call monitoring program that currently tracks nearly all phones calls within, to and from the United States. Other programs are also being examined and considered for reform.
This announcement comes as the American people and leaders from around the globe have upped their criticisms of the United States’ security programs. After it was revealed that the United States was spying on numerous world leaders, and working to obtain private information concerning both foreign nationals and American citizens, the American government has come under heavy fire.
Private companies, such as Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG), Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT), and Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) have also come under heavy fire for supporting and cooperating with the U.S. government and its spying efforts. While such companies had little choice in regards to the legally mandated cooperation, consumers have come to blame them, or at the very least distrust them, nonetheless. Now, many such companies are joining the growing chorus for reform.
Three key policy reforms being considered
The administration has been consulting with civic groups, security experts, and members of Congress to determine how best to move forward with potential reforms. The President’s NSA Review Panel has compiled and put together a list of potential reforms.
Apparently, the President is leaning towards three key policy reforms. The first reform would extend privacy protections as found in the Privacy Act of 1974 to non-American citizens. This would represent a major break from the United States’ current policy, which extends essentially no protection to non-citizens. After a massive international outcry following the Snowden leaks, however, the President has come under intense pressure.
A second reform would be to create an advocate to argue against the government in the highly secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. In order to conduct many of its activities, the NSA must first seek permission from the secretive court. Right now, however, the only opinion heard is that of the government’s. The advocate post would play a sort of “devil’s advocate” and provide counter arguments.
The third reform would be an overhaul to the nation’s call-monitoring program which currently tracks essentially all phone calls made within and to or from the United States. Call your grandma in Oklahoma? The government knows and keeps a record. Now, the Obama administration is considering an overhaul that would allow the NSA to track calls only with the approval of the aforementioned secret court.
The Administration has come to no hard conclusions or decisions just yet and appears to be trying to balance the rights of the people and the needs of the nation. While the NSA programs have attracted widespread criticism, many security experts credit them with the success of the United States in thwarting terrorist attacks in recent years.
NSA programs promise to become a divisive focal point
The administration could reveal proposed changes as early as next week, but given the highly polarized political environment in the Capitol, it’s hard to predict how far any proposed changes might advance. With elections looming in 2014, the NSA’s security programs could become a major focal point of the political narrative this November.
Republicans in particular may find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place. Libertarian and Tea Party elements of the GOP will likely push for increased personal rights and privacy. War hawks and security minded legislators, on the other hand, will likely oppose any efforts to water down the nation’s security efforts.
Either way, if the Obama administration pushes forward with reforms to the NSA, it promises to become a hot button issue that will attract a lot of international attention. Given the immense amount of pressure the U.S. government is under following the Snowden leaks, however, Obama and friends may have no choice but to reform the NSA and its spy programs.