Obama Task Force Makes Recommendations for US Surveillance Overhaul

NEWS ANALYSIS: A presidential task force makes sweeping recommendations to overhaul U.S. intelligence agency operations.


The White House has officially released a Presidential Task Force report that was triggered by the impact of intelligence leaks by former U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden.

The report titled, "Liberty and Security in a Changing World," offers 46 recommendations to improve and overhaul U.S. Intelligence activities. The task force report was ordered by President Barack Obama on Aug. 27 to determine what could be done to assuage concerns about over-reaching government snooping while defending the strategic national interests of the United States. The report emphasizes the critical importance that intelligence serves and stresses that data-collection efforts should continue, but with some new guidelines.

"The ability of the United States to combat threats from state rivals, terrorists and weapons proliferators depends on the acquisition of foreign intelligence information from a broad range of sources and through a variety of methods," the report states. "In an era increasingly dominated by technological advances in communications technologies, the United States must continue to collect signals intelligence globally in order to assure the safety of our citizens at home and abroad and to help protect the safety of our friends, our allies, and the many nations with whom we have cooperative relationships."

The task force also makes note that it is critical to protect the right to privacy, democracy, civil liberties and the rule of law. The report also emphasizes the important of technological innovation in the U.S. and the role that Internet freedom plays in that innovation.

"Excessive surveillance and unjustified secrecy can threaten civil liberties, public trust, and the core processes of democratic self-government," the report states. "All parts of the government, including those that protect our national security, must be subject to the rule of law."

In fact, the very first principle outlined in the report is that the U.S. government must protect both national security and personal privacy. The report states that the U.S. government has a constitutional obligation to uphold the rights of individuals as defined in the Fourth Amendment, which declares that "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated."

FISA Section 215

As such, the report suggests a number of reforms in how the U.S. government collects intelligence on U.S citizens. The report recommends the alteration of Section 215 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which enables the government to collect information on all telephone calls made in the United States.

"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," the report states. "In our view, the current storage by the government of bulk meta-data creates potential risks to public trust, personal privacy, and civil liberty."

The recommendation to end the bulk collection of phone call data is timely as a U.S. District Court judge ruled earlier this week that the effort is likely unconstitutional.

Going a step further, the report suggests and recommends that greater transparency into surveillance efforts become the law.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.