Obama's Proposed NSA Surveillance Reforms Fall Short, Congress Urged to Rein in Illegal Spying

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Posted Jan. 29, 2014

Interview with Cindy Cohn, legal director with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, conducted by Scott Harris


Seven months after Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor turned whistleblower revealed details of the U.S. National Security Agency’s secret, massive surveillance of American’s communications, President Obama attempted to address rising public concern about these issues in a Jan. 17 speech. Having received a set of 46 recommendations from a panel of five intelligence and legal experts he had earlier appointed to assess the need for reforms, the president laid out his proposals to restructure NSA surveillance programs.

He announced his decision to end the Section 215 bulk metadata program as it currently exists, and establish a new, still unknown method to store communications data, taking the government out of that role. Obama stated that NSA agents would now need to get authorization from a special intelligence court before accessing data on specific targets – and further said he had ordered a halt to surveillance targeting dozens of allied foreign leaders’ phone calls. Another reform adopted by the president would install a public advocate on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court in certain cases, to challenge surveillance operations that endanger civil liberties.

A week after Obama’s speech, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board issued an opinion that the NSA’s dragnet surveillance of phone data is illegal and maintained that the program has been largely useless in fighting terrorism. While many civil liberties advocates welcomed the president’s effort to address privacy concerns related to the NSA spy programs, many were disappointed, asserting that his proposed reforms failed to address key issues. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Cindy Cohn, legal director and general counsel with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who assesses President Obama's NSA Reform Plan and the work that must still be done to secure privacy rights and rein in the potential for abuse.

For more information on Electronic Frontier Foundation's concerns about the NSA's mass surveillance, visit eff.org/nsa-spying.

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