aside Post Edward Snowden NSA Reforms

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It is too bad that the following NSA reforms had not been in effect before the whistle-blower/ traitor, Edward Snowden exposed that the U.S. government had been acting under the cover of secrecy by covertly collecting data on all of its taxpaying constituents; as well as on all of its international allies and foes, without any legal oversight and restraints.

PBS FRONTLINE has published a 2/9/15 article on NSA reforms by Sarah Chidress,  “How the NSA Spying Programs Have Changed Since Snowden.”  The following are some of her comments:

“Last week, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which coordinates the various branches of the intelligence community, released a a report that is the most comprehensive public accounting of post-Snowden reforms.”

“But how much has actually changed?”

“It’s kind of dizzying,” said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s program on liberty and national security, of the flurry of reports and announcements. “The volume of information, and the sheer number of developments make it hard to sort out what’s significant.”

“She added: “From a big picture analysis, there’s been a lot of developments without a whole lot of movement. …These reforms just feel like gestures.”

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“The release of the ODNI report may represent one of the biggest post-Snowden changes, according to privacy experts. It is the first of what’s expected to be annual reviews of intelligence community programs.”

“I think the most substantial changes that have occurred come in the area of transparency,” said Mark Rumold, a senior attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation who has been tracking the government’s disclosures. “I’m not satisfied, but things were broken beforehand that any small change is an improvement.”

“FRONTLINE sifted through the various reports and recommendations to understand what the government has changed post-Snowden — and just how much is still exactly the same.”

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There Are Now “Appropriate Safeguards” for Personal Data – Unless It Conflicts with National Security

“Obama’s 2014 directive required the intelligence community to put in place “appropriate safeguards” for the personal information of people caught up in the surveillance dragnet. Most of those aren’t specified. But the government has made one significant change.”

“For the first time, the personal information of non-U.S. citizens now can only be kept for five years — the same length as Americans’ data, according to the ODNI report. If, within five years, agents haven’t determined whether the information is important, it must be deleted — unless the DNI determines that there’s a national security reason to keep it.”

“The policy means that the NSA is still allowed to hold on to any information it collects on anyone, for at least five years.”

“Still, Rumold said, that’s a step forward. “It was basically the Wild West before the Snowden disclosures,” he said. “The government was hanging onto anything related to non-U.S. persons and doing whatever they wanted. Now they’ve started to implement small changes around the margins. To give them credit, that is an improvement — but still not a particularly substantial change.”

The Government Can Still Gather Data on Americans Without a Warrant

“When the government collects foreigners’ information, it inevitably scoops up Americans’ communications, too. The government deems this “incidental” collection, but agents can still access and search this data without a warrant. Civil liberties experts, who call this “backdoor” collection, have raised concerns that such data could be used against Americans in court if authorities turned up evidence of a crime.”

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“In fact, the president’s review group recommended that authorities obtain a warrant to search this data. The ODNI has not made that change.”

“Under current policy as detailed in the ODNI report, data gathered this way on Americans can only be used against them in a criminal case “when appropriate.” To the government, that means only when the information yields evidence related to national security offenses or other serious crimes including death, kidnapping, “substantial bodily harm,” crimes against minors, destruction of critical infrastructure, transnational crimes, cyber security and human trafficking. The attorney general must also approve handing off the data.”

“Even so, privacy advocates, including Goitein, say that the provisions still violate the constitutional protections against search and seizure without a warrant for all crimes — even the serious ones. “It’s a pretty bald-faced end-run around the Fourth Amendment,” she said.”

“And while the ODNI said that the NSA and CIA have put in place new curbs on how much they collect — “minimization,” in NSA-speak — Rumold said it doesn’t seem to limit what is gathered by the FBI, which conducts the majority of searches for information on Americans. “The agencies that did get some restrictions placed on them do the least amount of U.S.-person querying of that data,” Rumold said. As for the FBI: “It doesn’t appear that their minimization procedures changed at all.”

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National Security Letters Now Expire — Unless the FBI Decides to Keep Them Open

“National Security Letters allow the FBI to secretly compel companies, such as phone or internet service providers, financial institutions or even libraries, to turn over communications or other data on a specific person. The letters come with a gag order prohibiting the recipient from notifying the person in question, or even acknowledging they were given the document.”

“Now, the gag order expires after three years, the ODNI report said — unless the FBI writes a letter requesting the order remain in effect. Companies can still fight the order in court.’

“The move “doesn’t fix the constitutional problem,” Rumold said. “The constitutional problem is that there’s a gag order when [a letter] is issued, without any judicial involvement or showing that there needs to be a gag. What they’ve done is shorten the indefinite unconstitutional gag to a three-year unconstitutional gag.”

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Bulk Collection of Telephone Metadata is Still in Place

“Obama said that he wanted to “end the Section 215 bulk metadata program as it currently exists.”

“That hasn’t happened, despite recommendations to scrap the program by both the review group Obama set up in 2013, and the civil liberties oversight board. In its latest report, the board noted that the president could end the program at ‘any time,” without Congressional involvement.”

“The president has curtailed the extent of the data gathered for each query. Instead of gathering all the data for people three “hops,” or contacts, removed from the designated target, they now can collect only the numbers for two hops. Any query now also requires advanced approval from the secret court designed to evaluate such requests, the Foreign Intelligence Security Court.”

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“But, Goitein said, “The NSA still collects all of this stuff and holds onto it.”

“The bulk collection authorization remains in place until the provision expires on June 1, 2015. After that, the program would need to be reauthorized by Congress. Section 215 was initially approved by Congress in 2001 as part of the Patriot Act, a law signed by President George W. Bush.”

“A new piece of legislation, the USA Freedom Act, sponsored by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), would end bulk collection under Section 215, allowing the government to gather data only on individuals after receiving court permission. The Obama administration backs the bill, but it’s unclear how it will fare in the new Congress.”


    • For me, it is not an issue of whether he is one of the good guys, or not. If I were in his shoes, and if I had made a concerted effort to fix a perceived wrong within the system for over a period of months with no success, I’d have gone to the press based on my moral compass. I’d also be aware that I’d have to face the consequences within the judicial system but I’d still take this risk.

      When President Obama and others started their saber rattling by threatening to charge him for treason under the Espionage Act, which carries the death penalty, I confess that I would not have hung around either, if I had a viable option.

      To my mind, when the president decided to flex his muscles as in this case, he placed his anger and the need to vet over the U.S. national best interests. It was crucial that Edward Snowden’s intel remain in this country.

      Prior to 2008, other whistle blowers in similar situations were not treated with overly harsh criminal penalties, for just this reason. Our national interests should always be the trump card.


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