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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 1/12/14

The Fantasy That Obama Is Currently Planning to ‘Overhaul’ Surveillance Programs

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The opening sentence of a report from the New York Times on reforms President Barack Obama is considering suggests that he is assembling a "plan to overhaul the nation's surveillance programs."

On December 31, Daniel Klaidman wrote a dazzling piece of fan fiction on how Obama's "defining fight" in 2014 will be how he takes on the surveillance state.

The president is planning to announce what changes to surveillance programs he supports in one week. Over the past few days, he has had meetings with lawmakers and intelligence agency leaders.

In the aftermath of revelations from documents disclosed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, there are multiple hints that suggest certain surveillance powers will not be constrained or ended.

First, after participating in a meeting with Obama yesterday, this was what Sen. Ron Wyden, a senator who has been championing significant reforms, said:

The debate is clearly fluid," senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, a longtime critic of bulk surveillance, told the Guardian after the meeting. "My sense is the president, and the administration, is wrestling with these issues"


What I'd say to Americans is that the future of these programs is being determined now. For those like me, who believe that security and liberty are not mutually exclusive, this is the time to weigh in.

Wyden, Sen. Mark Udall, another senator who has been fighting for checks against surveillance powers who also attended the Thursday meeting with Obama, and Sen. Martin Heinrich sent a letter to the president a day after the meeting urging him to adopt recommendations in a report from the NSA Review Group.

The letter encouraged the president to support "termination" of the storage of bulk telephone data and to "transition to a system in which phone companies provide specific customers' records to the government only when the government has a demonstrated need and an appropriate court order or emergency authorization."

It further suggested  the president support a probable cause requirement for searching the contents of communications collected under a section of the FISA Amendments Act (which Obama voted for in 2008 when he was a senator) and to close a loophole that allows for "backdoor searches" of Americans' communications. Also, the senators recommended Obama support a "Public Interest Advocate" who could represent "privacy interests" before the country's secret surveillance court.

Maybe this letter was sent to reinforce a position of support already taken by the president, but this letter would seem to suggest that these are critical measures Obama does not support.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner, who is the co-author of the USA Freedom Act which contains some reasonable reforms to NSA programs, said after he left the meeting with Obama he was not so sure the president thinks we need legislation to reform the NSA.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, an NSA defender who attended the meeting with Obama, said afterward, "The president made it clear today that he understands the value of the metadata collection programs. He also made clear that some changes should be made to create trust in the program by making them more transparent to the American people. He was in a listening mode today, and we had a very good discussion about the way forward on the NSA programs."

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Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure." He was an editor for
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