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

Germany Celebrates 25 Years of Unity

October 3 is a public holiday, marking the day in 1990 when East Germany and West Germany reunited More

Analysts: Russia's Syria Strikes Shake Regional Powers

If Moscow bolsters Assad, Saudi Arabia, other Gulf countries may feel obliged to step in More

Video Innovative Nano-Tech Water Filter Prevents Disease

It can absorb contaminants like copper, bacteria, viruses and pesticides, says Askwar Hilonga, who has been successfully trying out his product in Arusha More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs