Since June of last year, the Obama administration has been on damage control in regards to the leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. In various speeches since then, the president has defended the surveillance programs while also promising to reform some of its most controversial elements. Of course, any reform has to be approved by the FISA court and it finally did just that.
The Hill reports that the FISA court has recently approved President Obama’s two reforms to how the NSA accesses the massive trove of Americans’ cellphone data. The first would require the NSA to seek a court order before looking into its database of phone records. The second would limit the number of phone numbers the NSA could look at when chasing a target. Currently, the agency is allowed to look at numbers that are three steps away from the target, but it’s now been changed to two.
While reform is certainly welcome, many feel that President Obama’s suggestions don’t go far enough in addressing the issue at hand. Many still feel that the NSA’s collection of Americans’ phone records goes too far. Even if the agency has to obtain a court order to access the database, civil liberty proponents will argue that it’s not enough. Obama’s Civil Liberties board agrees and has argued that it should be shut down.
While a shut down of the program is unlikely, the FISA court is at least trying to be a little more proactive than the government when it comes to transparency. The court told the government to work on declassifying both its reform request and the court’s response. We’ll see a heavily redacted version of it by February 17.
So, what’s next for the NSA? In his speech, Obama ordered Attorney General Eric Holder to work with National Intelligence Director James Clapper in devising a way to take the NSA’s database out of its hands. The most popular option seems to be giving the database to a private third party, but many feel that this approach would just lead to Americans’ metadata being stolen by hackers considering the poor security employed by private entities in the U.S.
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