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Obama's NSA proposals underscore reform challenges

Jaikumar Vijayan | Jan. 20, 2014
President Obama's proposals to reform the National Security Agency's surveillance practices reflect the enormous challenges the administration faces in finding the right balance between national security needs and privacy and civil rights concerns.

Obama said he has also issued a new presidential directive that would strengthen executive branch oversight of the country's intelligence activities and provide greater transparency over surveillance activities. Going forward, the director of National Intelligence will work with the U.S. Attorney General's office to annually review and declassify any future opinions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that have broad privacy implications, he said.

Obama noted that he has also called on Congress to authorize the creation of a panel of privacy and civil rights advocates to provide an independent voice to significant cases before the FISA Court.

The changes "will leave everyone a little dissatisfied, which means [Obama] got it about right," said James Lewis, senior fellow and director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Lewis, who was part of a team that provided a set of cybersecurity recommendations to the Obama transition team during his first term, said the proposals are balanced and reflect the realities of trying to balance national security needs with privacy concerns. The proposals show a pragmatic level of support for privacy needs while also ensuring that counterterrorism efforts are not held to higher judicial standards than other crimefighting efforts, he said.


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