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STATEMENT: OTI on President's NSA Speech: Some Positive Signs, But Key Questions Remain Unaddressed

Published:   January 17, 2014
WASHINGTON, DC – In a speech this morning, President Obama addressed the controversy over the National Security Agency's surveillance programs and laid out a number of steps his Administration would take to respond to that controversy.  The following statement responding to the President's speech can be attributed to Kevin Bankston, Policy Director of New America's Open Technology Institute:
"We are incredibly thankful that the President recognizes that the government should eventually stop collecting bulk data on innocent Americans, but the key question is, what's next?  If the ultimate alternative to government collection is mandatory bulk data retention by the phone companies or mandatory bulk handover to a third party, the President should be prepared for a major legislative battle with key members of Congress, the technology industry and the privacy community arrayed against him. 
Particularly when the President's own review group concluded that the records program is not essential to preventing terrorist attacks, a conclusion bolstered just this past week by a report issued by New America's national security project, the right answer here is to stop the bulk collection completely--not to keep the same bulk data under a different roof."
Similarly, President Obama's decision that the FISA court rather than individual NSA analysts should decide what data the NSA can access is an absolutely critical reform, but the key question will be: under exactly what standard? The current standard that is being used--which the NSA and the FISA court made up out of whole cloth--is woefully inadequate and the closer the standard is to the one proposed under the USA FREEDOM Act reform bill, the better.
We are especially pleased that President Obama has responded to the unprecedented coalition of advocates and Internet companies that have demanded greater transparency around what the companies do--and don't do--when the NSA comes calling, and has promised to allow companies to publish more information about government requests for user data.  More transparency reporting by the companies will be an absolutely critical tool in rebuilding the trust in American Internet and telecommunications industries that has been lost. We look forward to working with the Administration on this issue and ensuring that companies--and the government--are as transparent as possible about the scope of the government's access to our telephone and Internet data."
The following statement can be attributed to Sascha Meinrath, Director of New America's Open Technology Institute:
“Although we're heartened by many of the positive steps that the President outlined today, many key questions and reforms were left unaddressed, and many controversies punted to Congress or to other government officials.  To restore trust in the United States as a responsible steward of the Internet, the President should be acting now and forcefully to take the advice of his own handpicked advisory panel, by immediately ending the NSA's collection of bulk data and supporting strong reforms like those in the USA FREEDOM Act.
When it comes to bulk surveillance, the only acceptable path to reform is for companies to only store what they have always stored for their own business purposes, and for the government to only access the data of particular people and organizations based on targeted court orders.  Anything less than that would ultimately be a failure of leadership in this critical moment, and likely would not be a bold enough change to restore the trust that has been lost both here and around the world."

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