US spooks gets poor review

A US government review has called for the reigning in of the National Security Agency.

The US legal and intelligence experts ordered by President Barack Obama to review National Security Agency practices called for a sweeping overhaul of US surveillance programmes.

The panel also called for reforms at a secret national security court and an end to bulk store age of telephone “metadata” by the spy agency.

Of course Obama does not have to obey the 308-report but failing to do so will open him up to the same sorts of allegations of constitution breaking which have dogged the US government since the extent of NSA spying was revealed by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The report called for “significant steps” to be taken “to protect the privacy of non-US persons”, and urged better cooperation with allies to avoid the diplomatic fallout from revelations of US intelligence gathering.

“We conclude that some of the authorities that were expanded or created in the aftermath of September 11 unduly sacrifice fundamental interests in individual liberty, personal privacy, and democratic governance,” it said.

It thinks that its recommendations would “strike a better balance between the competing interests in providing for the common defense and securing ‘the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity’.”

Like most government committee reports there was much that it does not say. It steered away from calling for bans on spying on foreign leaders, but said that such things needed to be approved at the highest level, rather than by Colin, who filled the drinks dispenser as a pet project he carried out in his lunch time.

Richard Clarke, a former White House counterterrorism aide who is a member of the review board, said while the board did not say the struggle against terrorism was over, the mechanisms can be more transparent and can have more independent oversight.

“In a free society, public officials should never engage in surveillance in order to punish their political enemies; to restrict freedom of speech or religion; to suppress legitimate criticism and dissent; to help their preferred companies or industries; to provide domestic companies with an unfair competitive advantage; or to benefit or burden members of groups defined in terms of religion, ethnicity, race, and gender,” the report said.

One of the key recommendations is to reform the law allowing the NSA to hold phone records or “metadata” on millions of calls both within and outside the United States. It felt that the storage by the government of bulk metadata creates potential risks to public trust, personal privacy, and civil liberty.

It thinks that metadata should be held by private providers or another private third party, with the government allowed access if “justified”.

It also said the secret court handling foreign intelligence requests should have a “public interest advocate” so that it can hear more than only the government’s arguments.

What is interesting was how the panel agreed with technology companies which have been seeking to release more information on the numbers of national security requests they receive. The panel added that the government should be issuing figures of its own.