Obama Names 4 to Review Group on NSA Surveillance

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ABC News reports that President Obama has chosen a group of four people to “assess whether, in light of advancements in communications technologies, the United States employs its technical collection capabilities in a manner that optimally protects our national security and advances our foreign policy while appropriately accounting for other policy considerations, such as the risk of unauthorized disclosure and our need to maintain the public trust.” Here they are:

A group of veteran security experts and former White House officials has been selected to conduct a full review of U.S. surveillance programs and other secret government efforts disclosed over recent months, ABC News has learned.

The recent acting head of the CIA, Michael Morell, will be among what President Obama called a “high-level group of outside experts” scrutinizing the controversial programs. Joining Morell on the panel will be former White House officials Richard Clarke, Cass Sunstein and Peter Swire. An announcement is expected Thursday, a source with knowledge of the matter told ABC News’ Jon Karl.

I don’t think any of us expected Glenn Greenwald or Noam Chomsky to be appointed to this review group, but it would have been nice to have at least one person on board who’s a strong voice for reining in the surveillance state. The closest we have among this group is Peter Swire, who was Bill Clinton’s privacy guy. I don’t know much about him, but here are some excerpts from an interview he gave last month about Edward Snowden’s disclosure of NSA surveillance programs:

The telephone information database story, to me, is big news….In human history, the government has never really had a database of your location that way, and this database apparently does that….The problem with great big databases is, once they exist, people find ways to use them….Having studied the uses and abuses of the data during the anti-communist era up through the 1970s that led up to Watergate, I think that having those kinds of databases is a real problem.

….I think it’s really time for a re-evaluation of whether the FISA rules are the ones we should have going forward….We should have less secrecy about the legal theories. A Freedom of Information Act request suggests that we’ve actually had secret court decisions that say something is unconstitutional, but we don’t know what the court said was unconstitutional and we don’t even know its legal theories. When it comes to secret law, that shouldn’t be the way that it works in the United States.

….Another area that’s ripe for change [is] to have more reporting in public, especially of summary statistics, so we have a sense of how much the investigations are about some particular person or small group of people, and how much instead the investigations are really about, “Give us every e-mail that you have in this huge database.” In a world of clouds, [that] an investigation can get the whole database is really going too broad. The whole idea in the Fourth Amendment is we’re supposed to avoid general warrants. We’re supposed to have particularity for the searches.

This is fairly mild stuff, but at least these are the right noises to make. We’ll see how hard he pushes these ideas and whether the rest of the group agrees to take them seriously.

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