News / USA

Panel Recommends Limits on NSA Spying

FILE - National Security Agency (NSA) Director Gen. Keith Alexander testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 11, 2013.
FILE - National Security Agency (NSA) Director Gen. Keith Alexander testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 11, 2013.
A special panel appointed by President Barack Obama has released its report on U.S. surveillance activities.  Obama ordered the report and a wider government-wide review earlier this year amid leaks by exiled former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.  

Leaks by Edward Snowden about NSA eavesdropping programs created a huge problem for the U.S. intelligence community, and for Obama.

Obama has described the programs, approved and modified at various points by Congress and overseen by a special court, as important to keeping Americans safe, but has called for more "self-restraint" by the NSA.

Here are a few of the recommendations made by an outside review panel for wide-ranging changes to the U.S. government's surveillance programs:

1.    The government now stores bulk telephony metadata, understood as information that includes the telephone numbers that both originate and receive calls, time of call and date of call. We recommend that Congress should end such storage and transition to a system in which such metadata is held privately for the government to query when necessary for national security purposes.

2.    Restrictions on the ability of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to compel third parties (such as telephone service providers) to disclose private information to the government.

3.    Legislation should be enacted requiring information about surveillance programs to be made available to the Congress and to the American people to the greatest extent possible.

4.    Significant steps should be taken to protect the privacy of non-US persons.

5.    The president should create a new process, requiring highest-level approval of all sensitive intelligence requirements and the methods that the Intelligence Community will use to meet them.

6.    We believe that the director should be a Senate-confirmed position, with civilians eligible to hold that position; the president should give serious consideration to making the next director of NSA a civilian.

7.    We recommend that Congress should create the position of Public Interest Advocate to represent the interests of privacy and civil liberties before the FISC.
Revelations added significant new layers to what is known about government information gathering, including data on telephone calls and activities on the Internet.

In its 300-page report, the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies makes 46 recommendations.  

One is to end bulk storage of so-called "metadata" of the telephone records of Americans by the government, in favor of storage by private companies or a third party, rather than the NSA.  

It also says the government should not "as a general rule" and without "senior policy review, be permitted to collect and store all mass, undigested, non-public personal information about individuals to enable future queries and data-mining for foreign intelligence purposes."

Other recommendations include: requiring a court to approve individual searches of phone and Internet data, and limiting the NSA's emergency authority regarding tracking of known targets of counterterrorism surveillance who enter the United States.

The panel urges a new process to identify "uses and limits of surveillance on foreign leaders and in foreign nations."  It says decisions should consider negative effects, and whether other means or targets of collection could reliably reveal needed information.  

The review group met with Obama on Wednesday although its report was submitted last week.  

Press secretary Jay Carney said the decision to release the report was made because of "inaccurate and incomplete" media reports about its content.

He said Obama will be "very deliberate" in assessing the document during his upcoming holiday vacation and speak to the nation in January, when a separate overall internal U.S. government review is completed.

"The president has made clear that even as we review our efforts and make some changes in how we do things, we will not harm our ability to face those threats; that is his number one obligation as commander-in-chief," he said.

Carney said there is no doubt that the Snowden leaks created an intense focus on the surveillance issue, both in the U.S. and abroad.

The official U.S. position on Snowden remains unchanged, with the White House saying he should return to the U.S. to face felony charges.

The White House disagrees with suggestions that Snowden receive amnesty to prevent him from releasing additional information that could further damage U.S. security and relations with allies.

The Obama administration faced more pressure this week from a federal court ruling that found the bulk collection of data about telephone calls made by Americans is likely unconstitutional.

Obama also faced pressure from high-tech executives who met with him.  They are reported to have urged aggressive reforms, and voiced concern about damage to U.S. credibility and business interests abroad.

Interviewed on CBS's 60 Minutes, NSA chief General Keith Alexander denied that the agency is collecting email or monitoring the phone conversations of Americans, saying the NSA's job is foreign intelligence.

He said the NSA can target communications of a U.S. person only with a probable cause finding under a court order. But he voiced concern about any decision to allow phone records to reside with private phone companies.

You May Like

Pakistan Among Developing Counties Hit Hard by Global Warming

Pakistani officials hope developed nations agree to scale back emissions, offer help in dealing with climate change

Video Speed, Social Media Shape Counterterrorism Probes

Speed is critical in effort to prevent subsequent attacks; demographics of extremists lend themselves to communicating, establishing profiles on digital platforms

Islamic State Oil Trade Seduces Friends, Foes Alike

Terrorist group rakes in up to $500 million a year in sales to customers such as Syrian government, US-supported rebels and Turkey

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs