Controversial intelligence projects that utilize telephone and Internet data came to light this past week, raising a new specter of concerns on the part of many Americans. National Security Administration (NSA) projects that collect meta-data to analyze it for patterns came under scrutiny even as intelligence officials sought to emphasize its role in cyber warfare and the more overarching war on terror.
For privacy groups, it may have been their worse nightmare and is likely to lead to the filing of several lawsuits by those advocating better protection of privacy rights. Speaking of the President’s policies on privacy, Steven Aftergood from the Project on Government Secrecy of the American Federation of Scientists, noted, “Clearly, he took a critical stance toward surveillance as a senator. That has been all but absent from his policies as president.”
For his part, President Obama was forced to enunciate publicly on June 7, 2013, his two primary goals: the security of the American people and protection of the Constitution, including the right to privacy, according to ABC News. Obama was also forced to clarify that the phone and Internet surveillance programs were focused on meta-data, not individual conversations or behavior.
Making intelligence work more difficult
One of the repercussions of the exposure of these classified programs is that it may have “a chilling effect on proposed cyber legislation that calls for greater information-sharing between government and industry,” noted Reuters.
Congressional aides and defense experts expressed concern that this public debate was likely to hamper national surveillance programs already in place, making it harder to defend the country. It is also likely to put pressure on both the Obama Administration and Congress to provide better protections for Americans’ privacy rights.
Vetting the process and tightening privacy
While security concerns cross political boundaries, there have already been calls for a probe into NSA’s activities. Noted Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), “Our investment in protecting American lives and liberties is not a blank check.” She called for better “vetting of this policy.”
In fact, Reuters notes that since the information about the telephone surveillance program came to light, “more lawmakers have signed on to legislation that would strengthen privacy protections in the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.” There is also discussion under way to raise the bar for government agencies seeking individualized information from the (current) subpoena format to a search warrant status.
Yet, what the powers-that-be seem to have forgotten is that the surveillance programs already in existence were already given the blessing of Congressional committees that monitor intelligence-gathering. One partial solution may be a renewed call for the implementation of the now-defunct Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent group that could advise the President and Congress, notes the Chicago Tribune.