The National Security Agency could significantly change how it gathers information thanks to a new set of recommendations issued Wednesday afternoon by the White House’s intelligence task force.
The panel, which President Obama created in light of the Edward Snowden leaks revealing widespread surveillance of private citizens, submitted several drastic reforms, ranging from stronger whistleblower protections to instituting point persons who focus specifically on citizens’ privacy interests. While none of these recommendations are final and could all be rejected by Obama, here’s a rundown of the most sweeping proposals:
1. Shut down the secret collection of bulk phone records.
In the same vein as Monday’s district court ruling, the presidential task force recommends the NSA shut down its phone database: “In our view, the current storage by the government of bulk meta-data creates potential risks to public trust, personal privacy, and civil liberty,” the report says. However, the metadata records wouldn’t disappear, just change ownership: “We recognize that the government might need access to such meta-data, which should be held instead either by private providers or by a private third party.”
The bottom line is, if adopted, the government wouldn’t be able to “collect and store mass, undigested, non-public personal information about U.S. persons for the purpose of enabling future queries and data-mining for foreign intelligence purposes,” the report says.
2. Create an independent entity to monitor government programs that infringe on civilian privacy and liberty.
The panel recommended the creation of the Civil Liberties and Privacy Protection Board, which would be specifically charged with reviewing whether the government’s foreign intelligence and counter-terrorism activity affects civil liberties and privacy.
“We recommend that for future developments in communications technology, the US should create program-by-program reviews informed by expert technologists, to assess and respond to emerging privacy and civil liberties issues, through the [CLPP] or other agencies,” the report says.
3. Bolster protections for whistleblowers in the intelligence community.
Current whistleblower procedure for intelligence employees requires reporting to either the agency’s inspector general or its counsel, his or her direct management or the Congressional Affairs Office, which has been heavily criticized. The task force did not look into specific concerns but acknowledged them, suggesting Congress enact a law to establish “a path for whistle-blowers to report their concerns directly to the CLPP.”
4. Close loopholes that allow “backdoor” spying through United States-based tech companies.
— The agency cannot hack into systems that guard global commerce;
— The government will not provide competitive advantage to U.S.-based corporations “by the provision to those corporations of industrial espionage;
— NSA can no longer ask vendors, (re: tech companies), to alter products to undermine their security, integrity or to “ease NSA’s clandestine collection of information by users of the product;”
— The agency will not “hold encrypted communication as a way to avoid retention limits,” the report says.
5. Tighten requirements for security-clearances and no longer using for-profit contractors.
Seemingly aimed at NSA contractors like Edward Snowden, it’s advised that the White House minimize “insider threats” by only sharing classified information with those who “genuinely need to know,” the report says.
“We recommend specific changes to improve the efficacy of the personnel vetting system,” the report reads. “The use of ‘for-profit’ corporations to conduct personnel investigations should be reduced or terminated. Security clearance levels should be further differentiated,” the task force says. For example, a special “administrative access” clearance would be created for IT personnel, barring them from “unnecessary access to substantive policy or intelligence material.”
6. Make the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court more accountable to more people.
Under current law, only the U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice can appoint a judge to the secret court. The recommendations ask Congress to divide the power between all Supreme Court justices, which could lead to a more proportionate ideological mix of judges. The task force also suggests FISC reviews be declassified to increase transparency, and that public interest advocate be appointed to the FISC to represent civilian privacy and liberties interests.