White House To Name Staunch Online Privacy Advocate To NSA Review Panel


Peter Swire

Peter Swire

The White House will reportedly announce that Center for American Progress fellow Peter Swire will be part of an independent expert panel that will review legal, privacy and transparency issues surrounding the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs.

ABC news reports that Swire, along with former top CIA official Michael Morell, former White House counterterror czar Richard Clarke and former White House official Cass Sunstein, will be named to the panel.

Swire brings years of expertise in online privacy and cybersecurity issues. While he was particularly critical of abuse and overreach in the Bush administration’s surveillance programs and counterterror policies, Swire has also taken issue with current NSA programs and the authorities that govern them.

Swire, now a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, recently signed on to two amicus briefs to the Supreme Court challenging the surveillance programs reveled by NSA leaker Edward Snowden. One brief Swire signed says that the NSA’s order for Verizon to turn over phone call logs and data “clearly violates the law and presents an extraordinary risk to personal privacy of millions of US persons. … Such sweeping collection of data about individuals who ‘have done nothing to warrant government suspicion … has the potential to be a 21st-century equivalent of general searches.'”

President Obama said earlier this month that part of his NSA surveillance program reform plan would include “a high-level group of outside experts to review our entire intelligence and communications technologies.”

Obama continued: “They’ll consider how we can maintain the trust of the people, how we can make sure that there absolutely is no abuse in terms of how these surveillance technologies are used, ask how surveillance impacts our foreign policy — particularly in an age when more and more information is becoming public.”

In a recent interview with Information Security Media Group, Swire laid out his specific criticisms. “The problem with great big databases is, once they exist, people find ways to use them,” he said. “I also think the collection about Americans doing domestic calls is highly questionable under the Fourth Amendment.” Swire added that there should be more transparency of the programs and the legal theories governing them.

He also said the U.S. has been “whittling” away the right checks and balances on national security issues over the last 12 to 14 years. “[I]t’s time to say it’s a moment of relative calm when we can look at it relatively rationally and put some checks and balances back in place,” he said.

Leslie Harris, president and CEO of the Center for Democracy & Technology, praised Swire’s reported appointment, telling the Guardian that it’s a “home run” for privacy advocates.

“He understand the inside ways in which you can make things happen in government and the range of potential options for enhancing privacy,” she said.

Obama said the review panel will provide an interim report within 60 days and a final report by the end of the year.