Obama's NSA Telecom Surveillance Reforms Really Won't Change Much
NEWS ANALYSIS: It appears as if the White House made significant concessions in the government's surveillance practices to bolster U.S. citizens' privacy. But in reality the changes are few in substance.When President Barack Obama announced on Jan. 17 apparently sweeping changes to the ways in which the various intelligence agencies collect and store data, it sounded like a major concession to U.S. citizens and businesses concerned about their privacy. While there were a few important changes, it's hard to see that they will have much practical effect. And, in fact, if the changes are followed, the most important change may be to reduce the nation's ability to prevent terrorist attacks or respond to attacks after they happen. There are two reasons most people will see little relevant change. First, when the president said that the National Security Agency would no longer keep telephone metadata in its own data center, he didn't specify where it would go other than to pass that decision off to Congress. Second, even if a destination for that data is determined soon, there's a lot of data involved—more than you can put on a flash drive and copy on to another computer. The sheer act of moving the data and ensuring its security and integrity could take months.
Coupled with the process of moving the telephone metadata is the problem with accessing it if and when the intelligence agency needs access to it. In the case of a suspected terrorist plot against the United States, the NSA would need to perform a classic big data analysis of all of that information. This requires significant bandwidth to access that data, and processing it outside the NSA's own data center could be problematic.