Obama nears decision on surveillance

President Barack Obama is hosting a series of meetings this week with lawmakers, privacy advocates and intelligence officials as he nears a final decision on changes to the government's controversial surveillance programs.
AP Wire
Jan 9, 2014

Obama could announce the changes as early as next week. He's weighing more than 40 recommendations from a presidential review board that proposed restrictions on the National Security Agency's collection of telephone records from millions of Americans.

A separate task force appointed by Congress has also undertaken its own review of the NSA's vast powers. However, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board doesn't expect to issue its report until late January at the earliest, meaning Obama will announce his recommendations before receiving the group's final report.

Board members were meeting with the president at the White House Wednesday and have also held previous meetings with administration officials. Obama was also scheduled to huddle Wednesday with members of the intelligence community, many of whom have been pushing to keep the NSA surveillance programs intact.

On Thursday, Obama planned to meet with a handful of lawmakers. And representatives from privacy groups were scheduled to meet Thursday afternoon with Obama's top lawyer, Kathryn Ruemmler, who has been heading the internal legal review.

That review was spurred by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked details of several secret government programs. Snowden faces espionage charges in the U.S., but has been granted temporary asylum in Russia.

White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said this week's meetings "offer the president an opportunity to hear from groups who play an important role in addressing these issues as we begin to wrap up our review."

Sascha Meinrath, a civil liberties advocate who attended previous White House meetings on surveillance, said administration officials could "test the waters" for its planned tweaks.

"This would be their chance to springboard some ideas for what the president is going to say," said Meinrath, director of the Open Technology Institute. Meinrath will not be at Thursday's meeting, though one of his colleagues planned to attend.

White House officials say Obama is considering nearly all of the review group's recommendations, which include stripping the NSA of its ability to store data in its own facilities and instead shift that storage to the private phone companies. In comments late last year, Obama indicated he may be open to significant changes.

"There are ways we can do it, potentially, that gives people greater assurance that there are checks and balances — that there's sufficient oversight and sufficient transparency," Obama said during a Dec. 20 news conference. He added that programs like the bulk collection of phone records "could be redesigned in ways that give you the same information when you need it without creating these potentials for abuse."

It's unclear why Obama will announce his recommendations before receiving the report from the privacy and civil liberties board. That panel had originally planned to issue its recommendations by December.

One official familiar with the review process acknowledged that some White House officials were puzzled by the board's delay. But they said the report would likely still have strong weight in Congress, where legislators are grappling with several bills aimed at dismantling or preserving the NSA's authority.

The official insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the board's work by name.

Comments

caseygolf

Why change it a judge ruled it to be legal for the safety of all our country men and women.

winggirl

Because it is completely illegal. I, for one, am not willing to lie down and give up my freedom for the sake of safety.

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” - Benjamin Franklin.

Zegota

If you hear a lie long enough, you will start to believe it to be the truth and this administration is an expert in this field.
God Bless the Constitution.

Lanivan

You might not know that the head of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, from 1956-1971, masterminded a sweeping and covert program called COINTELPRo (counter intelligence program). Covert and often illegal, Hoover spied on his 'political opponents' to blackmail and destroy them - thousands of them, from all walks of life and every area of the political spectrum. It was a massive abuse of power that supposedly no one in Congress knew about, let alone sanctioned.

Fast forward to NSA surveillance. It's been going on for decades; it comes up for Congressional approval every 3 months; it is broad-based - it doesn't discriminate based on political party. And it is legal. I'm not offering approval or disapproval here, just putting it into perspective.

The fact is that Americans have been spied upon or been the target of surveillance, both illegally and legally, for many decades. It is nothing new, and, frankly, will always be there in some form or another.

Former Grandhavenite

I think the key difference between past surveillance and what's going on now is that this time it's easier for the public to discover what's going on, and more importantly- to fight back. The surveillance state today is running into the same problem that the Stasi in East Germany ran into. There aren't enough Koolaid drinkers working there to fully catalog and analyze all of the private information collected by their dragnet, or to even secure it properly.

The volume of information being collected is so absurd that they recently had to build a huge new data center in Utah just to store all of it. In order to make some kind of sense out of the massive trove of info they've gathered on all of us, they have no choice but to computerize it and load it into databases. They can put whatever security measures they want in place, but as a great computer scientist once said, "Trying to make bits not copyable is like trying to make water not wet." Once it's just a collection of files that can be loaded onto a portable hard drive or thumb drive, or transmitted over a network the door is wide open for someone of true goodwill and conscience (like Snowden) to gather proof of the illegal surveillance and blow the whistle. The easier they make it to catalog and process all of the information on us, the easier it will be for the public to discover what's going on and aim the microscope right back at the thugs. They've already lost and they're the only ones who don't realize it yet.

Lanivan

"They've already lost and they're the only ones who don't realize it yet".

Really? What makes you think this? My viewpoint is that the NSA will always be with us, with a limited degree of extra supervision and regulation here and there - but I don't see the NSA "losing"..

Vladtheimp

Comparing the primitive Hoover programs to the Bush, and later Obama expanded NSA programs? Does not compute.

Just for fun, when I was teaching in D.C. in 1968 I arranged for my 7th grade class to get a tour of the FBI in its old tacky headquarters (they held tours for schools regularly). My class of 41 black kids, who it had taken me months to distinguish, piled off the bus as J. Edgar was leaving the building to get into his Limo. He stopped, introduced himself to a couple of the kids, asked their names, and left. The tour concluded in about 2 1/2 hours, (including a demonstration of checking their teacher's driving record that left me sweating) and we left the building. J. Edgar was just arriving back at Headquarters, and I'll be smoked if he didn't come over to greet the kids and identify the ones he had spoken with earlier by name - one of the more amazing things I have seen, and I'm pretty sure there was no surveillance back then - just a memory that was astounding.

J. Edgar might have been many things (and I don't believe the Clyde Tolson rumors) but he impressed me and the kids that day!)

Mystic Michael

The personal anecdote about J. Edgar really is fascinating. Somehow it doesn't surprise me to learn that he was so brilliant, even charismatic.

Yet notwithstanding your obvious respect for him personally, Hoover's ongoing program of political surveillance and political intimidation fails to compare to our contemporary NSA/CIA/FBI overreaches only in its relative lack of organizational and technological sophistication. In terms of its sheer paranoid vindictiveness, it was every bit as dirty and mean-spirited as anything ever committed by Richard Nixon and his crew.

Lanivan

Like many political figures who have managed to hold the reins of supreme power, control, and influence for many years, Hoover had to possess, as you and MM suggest, charisma, extraordinary abilities, and charm along with the ruthless ambition and other darker pathologies.

I wasn't in any way trying to compare the Hoover's FBI with the NSA - just pointing out to winggirl that Americans have been spied on for decades through various means, legally and illegally. The current NSA surveillance is but one cog in the wheel.

I love your story, especially knowing a wee bit about your driving record in those days of yore.

Former Grandhavenite

I've said it before and I'll say it again- Snowden is one of the greatest heroes in American history. It takes true courage to actually uphold the oath that every federal employee takes, "to protect and defend the constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic." He's revealed the crimes to the American people that are being committed in our name.

Keep in mind that he gave up a comfortable life and big bucks in Hawaii, and is going to have to spend the rest of his life on the run because he dared to do the right thing. He also proved that the Obama administration isn't any better than Bush was on one of the most important issues of our time. Don't believe the hype. What's the point in even having a fourth amendment to the constitution if it doesn't apply to email, phone calls, postal mail, or any form of electronic communication whatsoever? If either the Obama or Bush administrations had demonstrated a shred of integrity or honesty about their true loyalties and intentions, they would have campaigned for the repeal of the fourth amendment and sent that amendment to the states hoping that 37 would ratify it. The reality is that the security establishment, their corporate partners, and at least the current and previous administrations have nothing but complete disdain for the constitution and the American way of life.

Mystic Michael

It is very revealing that the great majority of outrage and bombast and spleen splitting coming from official Washington (i.e. the Administration, the Congress, the pundits, and the media talking heads) concerning these very disturbing disclosures of numerous, extreme violations of civil liberties and human rights, is being directed - not against the perpetrators at the NSA or the CIA or the FBI or the Pentagon themselves - but against the whistle blowers, Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning and John Kiriakou, who brought the knowledge of these abuses to public attention in the first place.

What does that tell you about the actual priorities of the Washington establishment?

Vladtheimp

Well, who controls the NSA? - Well, it was in place when John F. Kennedy was President, and every subsequent President, including George Bush, and Obama just expanded it, as they all did.

How about following the Constitution, like the 4th Amendment and the 2nd Amendment - I would agree in both cases.

Mystic Michael

Yes, I agree. I've already called out the Administration specifically - and that means the Obama Administration.

But it is true that this military-industrial-corporate complex has been growing in power and influence since at least the time of World War II - Eisenhower even made it the topic of his swan song as he was leaving office. So lest you or anyone else attempt to "go there", allow me to cut you off at the pass right now: This is not a partisan issue. It is an institutional problem, a structural problem, and a Constitutional problem. And it requires an equally institutional, structural and Constitutional response.

Vladtheimp

Although I think there is another tripartite complex these days, and that the professional politicians we have these days are more bought and paid for than those when Eisenhower was President - I agree, especially with your last sentence.

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