A tough and thorough report by an independent panel of experts last week should be all the justification that President Obama needs to make critical changes in the National Security Agency’s spy programs to protect Americans’ privacy without undermining national security.
Until now, President Obama has tried to deflect criticism of the NSA secret surveillance projects that a federal judge last week labeled “nearly Orwellian.” The president has offered soothing assurances that he understands why the public is worried, but he has never committed to undertake the changes necessary to ensure a minimum level of privacy. It’s time to stop talking and start acting.
The report by a five-member panel of intelligence and legal experts appointed by the president himself stopped short of recommending the dismantling of NSA programs designed to prevent acts of terrorism. Nor should they have. The threat of terrorism on American soil remains very real.
But does that mean that the public has to surrender a reasonable expectation of privacy in communications, either by phone or in cyberspace? The NSA’s excesses, responding to orders from two administrations and from Congress, went far beyond what is necessary to maintain a proper balance between security and the right to be free of a smothering level of surveillance.
Among the most important is the recommendation that the data gleaned from systematically collecting the logs of every American’s phone calls — so-called metadata — should be held in private hands (phone companies or some sort of private consortium) and not by the government itself. The NSA would have to get a judge’s order to perform “link analysis” on any stored record.
The president is expected to announce next month what he intends do about the secrecy programs. He should embrace those changes that provide greater accountability and enhance the civil liberties of Americans. If there are recommendations he cannot accept, he must make a persuasive case to the public as to why.
-The Miami Herald