President Obama’s proposal to curtail the collection capabilities of the National Security Agency (NSA) passes the buck for protecting the Constitution to a secret court that has proven less than firm in its resolve to restrict the reach of the surveillance apparatus.
The president’s plan purports to severely shrink the NSA’s authority to gather so-called metadata from calls made on traditional landline telephones, but could simultaneously remove similar checks on the spy agency’s access to cellphone data. As reported by the Los Angeles Times:
The compromise plan would also offer benefits for the NSA that might give privacy advocates pause. Most importantly, it would expand the universe of calling records the agency can access. After months of suggesting that they were collecting all the calling metadata, U.S. officials disclosed last month that a large segment of mobile phone calls were not covered by the program, and that as a result the NSA may only collect 30% of all call data in the country.
Thirty percent of all call data is in itself something of a victory in light of recent revelations provided by documents leaked by former NSA subcontractor Edward Snowden. As The New American reported, the NSA “has the ability to record ‘100 percent’ of the phone calls of a foreign country and then access those calls, replaying them months after they were made.”
A closer look at President Obama’s “compromise” reveals some substantial abridgments of constitutional standards. Again from the LA Times:
Under the new arrangement, phone companies would be required to standardize their data and make it available on a continuously updated basis so the NSA could search it for terrorist connections. The NSA would have to obtain a court order for such a search, said an administration official who confirmed details of the program on condition of anonymity because it has not yet officially been released.
Since the date of the publication of that article, the plan has been made public.
On March 27, during a conference call, the White House revealed the president’s plan for the NSA “not to collect or hold this data in bulk.”
During the briefing, a senior administration official laid out the highlights of the president’s proposal.
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