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White House Releases Panel Report on US Surveillance Practices

  • Zlatica Hoke

The White House has released an independent panel's review of U.S. intelligence practices, with recommendations that are expected to serve as a basis for a revision of policy procedures guiding the National Security Agency. President Barack Obama met with panel members Wednesday to discuss 46 recommendations they made on how to modify U.S. surveillance practices.

The White House stipulated that the administration is looking into ways of how to best use its intelligence gathering capabilities to protect U.S. national security without unnecessarily infringing on civil liberties and personal privacy.

The review panel recommended several measures for the better safeguarding of civil liberties and careful analysis of the consequences of collecting intelligence. It also called for protection of the privacy of non-U.S. citizens.

Stephen Vladack, a law professor at American University in Washington, said that protecting non-U.S. citizens is important, and that even U.S. citizens abroad are not protected by the U.S. constitution.

"I think the real questions for non-citizens outside the United States is if there are ways to improve privacy protections and constraints on surveillance powers short of Constitutional invalidation, are there ways for Congress to legislate tighter safeguards to ensure that the NSA is not just vacuuming up all the information that it can, but that it’s only collecting information when it has a reason to," said Vladack.

At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney said President Obama will not make any immediate decisions regarding the 300-page report.

"He is not going to make snap judgments. He is going to look at it and assess it. The overall internal review won't be completed until January. After that, the president will have more to say about it, and more to say about the outcomes of that work," said Carney.

The review group worked under the director of national intelligence to examine NSA practices following allegations from former agency contractor Edward Snowden that the NSA collected data on telephone calls made by private citizens. Carney acknowledged that Snowden's disclosures have had an effect, and pointed out that the president instigated the review with the intention of making changes in the U.S. surveillance program.

"Changes that will be important even as we make clear that the work that is done by the NSA and the other parts of the intelligence community is vital to the security of the United States and the American people and our allies, and that we will not compromise the work that we do on behalf of the security of the United States," said Carney.

President Obama defended U.S. surveillance programs in a speech in August, shortly after Snowden leaked some of the documents he allegedly stole from the NSA.

"I want to make clear once again that America is not interested in spying on ordinary people. Our intelligence is focused above all on finding the information that's necessary to protect our people and, in many cases, protect our allies," said Obama.

Obama has promised greater transparency on how and when the surveillance systems are used.

Snowden is currently in exile in Russia. He is wanted by the United States on charges of espionage, but his supporters hail his act for spurring a global discussion on security practices that affect ordinary citizens -- a discussion that many consider long overdue.