Cur­tail NSA snoop­ing, panel urges

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By WAR­REN STRO­BEL and MARK HOSEN­BALL in Wash­ing­ton Reuters

A White House-ap­pointed panel on Wed­nes­day pro­posed curbs on some key Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency sur­veil­lance op­er­a­tions, rec­om­mend­ing lim­its on a pro­gram to col­lect records of bil­lions of tele­phone calls and new tests be­fore Wash­ing­ton spies on for­eign lead­ers.

Among the panel’s pro­pos­als, made in the wake of rev­e­la­tions by for­mer NSA con­trac­tor Ed­ward Snow­den, the most con­tentious may be its rec­om­men­da­tion that the eaves­drop­ping agency halt bulk col­lec­tion of the phone call records, known as “meta­data.”

In­stead, it said, those records should be held by telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions providers or a pri­vate third party. The US gov­ern­ment would need an or­der from the For­eign In­tel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Court for each search of the data.

“We don’t see the need for the gov­ern­ment to be re­tain­ing that data,” said Richard Clarke, a mem­ber of the panel and a for­mer White House coun­tert­er­ror­ism ad­viser.

The panel’s re­port ex­pressed deep skep­ti­cism about both the value and ef­fec­tive­ness of the meta­data col­lec­tion pro­gram.

“The ques­tion is not whether grant­ing the gov­ern­ment (this) au­thor­ity makes us in­cre­men­tally safer, but whether the ad­di­tional safety is worth the sac­ri­fice in terms of in­di­vid­ual pri­vacy, per­sonal lib­erty and pub­lic trust,” it said.

The re­port’s au­thors said the meta­data col­lec­tion pro­gram “has made only a mod­est con­tri­bu­tion to the na­tion’s se­cu­rity.” The pro­gram “has gen­er­ated rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion in only a small num­ber of cases” that might have led to the preven­tion of ter­ror­ist at­tack, they said in a foot­note.

It added that “there has been no in­stance in which NSA could say with con­fi­dence that the out­come would have been dif­fer­ent with­out the ... tele­phony meta­data pro­gram. More­over, now that the ex­is­tence of the pro­gram has been dis­closed pub­licly, we sus­pect that it is likely to be less use­ful still.”

It re­mains to be seen, how­ever, how many of the panel’s 46 rec­om­men­da­tions will be ac­cepted by US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and the US Congress. The panel’s five mem­bers met with Obama at the White House on Wed­nes­day.

Obama said in a tele­vi­sion in­ter­view this month that he would be “propos­ing some self-re­straint on the NSA” in re­forms that the White House has said will be an­nounced in Jan­uary.

White House press sec­re­tary Jay Car­ney said some of the out­side panel’s rec­om­men­da­tions could be ac­cepted, oth­ers stud­ied fur­ther, and some re­jected.

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