White House report recommends reducing NSA surveillance powers

By Danny Palmer
19 Dec 2013 View Comments

A White House review panel has recommended that the surveillance operations of the US National Security Agency (NSA) should be cut back, and its ability to collect bulk records on telephone calls should be stripped.

Titled Liberty and Security in a Changing World, the 300-page report for US President Barack Obama comes following revelations about government snooping leaked by whistleblower and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Prepared by the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology, the report makes 46 recommendations to President Obama.

Further reading

The recommendations include that records about phone conversations should be held by a third party, which would require the US government to request permission from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in the event of wanting to see activities.

"In our view, the current storage by the government of bulk metadata creates potential risks to public trust, personal privacy and civil liberty," said the report.

"The government should not be permitted to collect and store mass, undigested, non-public personal information about US persons for the purpose of enabling future queries and data-mining for foreign intelligence purposes."

The NSA panel report doesn't mention Snowden by name, but the language seemingly concedes his concerns might be justified.

"Although an individual government employee or contractor should not take it upon himself to decide on his own to 'leak' classified information because he thinks it would be better for the nation for the information to be disclosed, it is also the case that a free and democratic nation needs a safe, reliable and fair-minded process to enable such individuals to present their concerns to responsible and independent officials," said the report.

"After all, their concerns might be justified. It does not serve the nation for our government to prevent information that should be disclosed from being disclosed," the report adds.

The recommendations have yet to be accepted by President Obama, who will reportedly read them over the Christmas period before coming to a decision in the New Year.

However, freedom groups have already criticised the recommendations for not going far enough, in that they don't suggest the end to overall mass surveillance by security agencies.

"The review board floats a number of interesting reform proposals, and we're especially happy to see them condemn the NSA's attacks on encryption and other security systems people rely upon," said Electronic Frontier Foundation Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl. 

"But we're disappointed that the recommendations suggest a path to continue untargeted spying. Mass surveillance is still heinous, even if private company servers are holding the data instead of government data centres," he added.

The Prism snooping revelations first came to light this year after Snowden leaked documents that revealed the NSA collects information on "nearly everything a typical user does on the internet".

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