Advisory Board Report Won't Alter NSA Operations Despite Hype

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2014-01-23 Print this article Print

The only difference between the limits announced by the president in his Jan. 17 speech and the board's findings is that the president described his position as bringing change when, in reality, it won't. In the case of the board, the idea that it would change anything was rejected out of hand by all sides.

So if the board's report is dead on arrival, why all the hype? Partly, there's a vain hope among some in Congress and in some journalistic circles that their views of the NSA's alleged wrongdoing might finally be heard. The PCLOB efforts were doomed from the beginning, which is why it took so long to find five people in Washington willing to serve on it.

Another advisory group formed by the president recommended much more limited actions, such as requiring a court order before accessing the collection of phone metadata currently held by the NSA. The president supported that group's recommendations. The Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, which works under the Director of National Intelligence, solicited public comments prior to issuing its advice to the president.

The Computer & Communications Industry Association, which represents the IT industry itself, welcomed the discussion that was brought by the PCLOB's recommendations. "We are encouraged that this latest report will add to the growing debate after a federal judge and the president's review group also expressed serious misgivings about bulk data collection and other surveillance practices," said CCIA President and CEO Ed Black. "These valuable, independent reviews will help as Congress continues to consider how to reform NSA programs and procedures."

Black noted that while the members of the board did not agree as to the legality of the NSA's data collection, they did all agree that there do not appear to have been any instances in which the data gathering actually prevented a national security threat.

But, on the other hand, as Rep. Mike Rogers noted in his statements, there are no silver bullets when it comes to intelligence gathering. While the data gathering in itself did not prevent any attacks, apparently it was useful in providing confirmation, which is also critically important.

While the PCLOB report represented a great deal of effort, it's clear that the group did not succeed in finding anything that would alter the current course of the administration in its pursuit of data gathering, it may at least open the door to discussion, and that's also important. Just don't expect it to change much any time soon.



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