Preliminary Review: Liberty and Security in a Changing World
December 18, 2013
The report and recommendations of President Obama’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies makes a series of strong recommendations that would go far to rebuild trust regarding new intelligence. It addresses the legitimate concerns about National Security Agency (NSA) data collection. While some of its recommendations are tangential or superfluous, the central recommendations, if adopted, would go far to bring the intelligence programs and the laws passed after 9/11 into line with the constitutional requirements for judicial oversight and with the reforms that have guided intelligence collection since the 1970s.
Not all concerns are legitimate, as there are those outside the United States who hope to get commercial or political advantage from the Snowden revelations, and they will try to dismiss the report as a whitewash. It is not. The report itself is a colossal 337 pages long, but the first 30 pages lay out the recommendations and their rationale in a clear fashion. They fall into the following categories:
- Increased transparency on intelligence programs and decisions;
- Amending Patriotic Act sections 702 and 215 to limit how they can be used and to strengthen oversight of their use;
- Organizational changes (like splitting NSA and cyber command and moving NSA’s Information Assurance Directorate outside the agency);
- Strengthening the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (including the unfortunate idea of creating a privacy advocate for the court);
- Storing metadata outside of NSA and, more importantly, requiring independent judicial authorization to look at it;
- Fixing the process for national security letters to improve oversight and limit discretion;
- Assurances to foreigners that would limit what will be collected and how it will be treated—decisions on whether to spy on foreign leaders would require exceptional political authorization;
- Improving intelligence coordination with allies and partners;
- Greater political oversight of intelligence priorities and collection, including collection against foreign leaders;
- And a series of “pet rock” ideas (such as those on Internet governance, recreating an Office of Technology Assessment, calling for further studies).
The core recommendations expand oversight and transparency in beneficial ways and reverse the situation where those who wanted to use certain tools were also the ones who approved the use. The administration is likely to follow up with some kind of White House document adopting some of the recommendations and referring others for congressional action. The report shifts the terms of debate over the Snowden leaks in beneficial and necessary ways.
James Andrew Lewis is a senior fellow and director of the Strategic Technologies Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
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