Obama to consider imposing new limits on NSA spying practices

19 Dec 2013

US President Barack Obama meets tech leaders in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, this week

US President Barack Obama is to study the recommendations of a panel of outside advisers on balancing the work of the National Security Agency (NSA) in protecting the US against terrorism and at the same time protecting civil liberties.

The report, which contains 46 recommendations, comes in the wake of Obama meeting the leaders of major US tech companies at the White House this week, including the senior management of Apple, Google, Facebook and Yahoo!

The leaders of the tech giants told Obama how the revelations by former CIA contractor Edward Snowden have shaken the tech economy to its very core and could potentially damage trust in the industry, one of the few economic bright spots in the US and worldwide at present.

The panel has recommended changes in the way the NSA collects data on American citizens, including mobile phone data, monitors overseas web traffic and keeps an eye on the mobile phones of various foreign leaders.

The panel recommends that rather than gathering the entire metadata of US citizens’ mobile phone usage, this data should remain in the hands of the telecoms companies or a private consortium and be accessible only by court order.

The panel also recommends the NSA stop spying on major tech giants headquartered in the US, whether by ‘back door’ attacks by manipulating hardware or software, by purchasing information on flaws in technology, or by monitoring traffic by tools, such as the PRISM programme.

Foundations for the future

“We have emphasised the need to develop principles designed to create strong foundations for the future,” said the panel’s chairman Richard Clarke.

“Our goal has been to establish broad understandings and principles that can provide helpful orientation during the coming months, years, and decades,” Clarke said.

In a statement, the White House said Obama will work with his national security team over the next several weeks to study which of the recommendations should be implemented.

“The president noted that the group’s report represented a consensus view, particularly significant given the broad scope of the members’ expertise in counter-terrorism, intelligence, oversight, privacy and civil liberties.

“The president again stated his expectation that, in light of new technologies, the United States use its intelligence collection capabilities in a way that optimally protects our national security while supporting our foreign policy, respecting privacy and civil liberties, maintaining the public trust, and reducing the risk of unauthorised disclosure,” the White House stated.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years