When the NSA's spy programs were first revealed in early June by Edward Snowden, President Obama was one of the first in Washington to jump to the agency's defense. He did, however, say that he would welcome a debate from privacy proponents on how to properly balance the need for security and privacy in the digital era. It's been two months since the initial leaks, and now the President is finally ready to start that debate.
In a press conference today at the White House, President Obama directly addressed the NSA's spy programs that were revealed in June. He continued to defend the programs and said that he feels they have struck the right balance between protecting Americans' security and their civil liberties. That being said, he proposed four specific reforms that he feels will bring transparency and public trust back to its spy programs.
The President's first proposal is that Congress work on reforms to the Patriot Act, specifically Section 215. This is the section that allows the government to collect phone records. The president reiterated that the NSA does not have the ability to listen to phone calls. He said that his idea for reform would implement greater oversight and transparency into the program. He didn't go as far as suggesting that Congress dismantle the program, and even threatened to veto a House bill that would have done just that.
The second proposal called for Congress to work on reforming the FISA court - the court that approves surveillance requests from the government. He addressed the criticism that the court rubber stamps all requests without hearing any other arguments. He proposes that there be somebody present in the FISA court to argue on behalf of civil liberties. The Senate is currently pushing legislation that would reform the court so here's hoping that the President doesn't stand in their way.
The third proposal calls for greater transparency for the NSA and the Department of Justice. One particular reform mentioned is that he will direct the Justice Department to public its legal rationale behind collecting phone records under section 215 of the Patriot Act. He also will establish a full time privacy officer at the NSA, and direct the creation of a Web site that details what the NSA does and how they do it.
The fourth and final proposal would create a group of outside experts to review the NSA and its technologies. The group would recommend ways to maintain the public's trust in the agency and prevent abuse. He also said that the group would provide an interim report on the NSA's programs in 60 days and then a full report at the end of the year.
The president ended his statement by saying that the American government is not interested in spying on ordinary people domestically and abroad. He says that the government is solely focused on stopping terrorism with these programs. A recent report from Reuters calls that claim into question, but it's nice to see the president propose greater transparency. Unfortunately, transparency only does so much, and he didn't really propose any actual reforms to how the NSA operates as revealed by the Snowden leaks.