Panel Set to Recommend Modest Changes to NSA Surveillance Programs

| Fri Dec. 13, 2013 1:16 AM EST

I've been wondering recently whatever happened to that task force on surveillance activities, and today brings news that they're just about to release their recommendations. First up is this:

The proposal likely to gain the most attention would revamp the NSA phone records program....The proposal to have that data held by a phone company or a third party would effectively end the controversial NSA practice known as bulk collection. NSA could collect data only after meeting a new higher standard of proof.

That would be a step in the right direction. If the phone record program continues, there's no reason the data can't be held by a separate agency, available to the NSA only after they obtain a particularized subpoena for it. Done properly, this would provide access to all the information they need and is unlikely to slow them down in any serious way. There's also this:

Another likely recommendation, officials say, is the creation of an organization of legal advocates who, like public defenders, would argue against lawyers for the N.S.A. and other government organizations in front of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the nation’s secret court that oversees the collection of telephone and Internet “metadata” and of wiretapping aimed at terrorism and espionage suspects. Mr. Obama has already hinted that he objects to the absence of any adversarial procedures in front of the court’s judges.

That's also a good step. It's absurd that the FISA court works without anyone arguing against the government's position. Other expected recommendations include:

  • Civilian leadership for the NSA.
  • Splitting the NSA's code making group away from the rest of the agency.
  • Presidential approval for spying on foreign leaders.
  • Codifying and announcing stricter standards to protect the privacy of foreign citizens.

In the end, I suspect that most of this will amount to very little. But it's better than nothing. Thanks, Edward Snowden.