Gaps Observed in Privacy Plan

By Wereschagin, Mike | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, January 18, 2014 | Go to article overview

Gaps Observed in Privacy Plan


Wereschagin, Mike, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Privacy advocates and national security experts offered mixed reviews of President Obama's speech on Friday about curbing the National Security Agency's surveillance powers.

Obama proposed ending government control of millions of Americans' phone records, halting spying on allied leaders and extending some privacy protection to foreign citizens ensnared in the NSA's vast intelligence web. The speech comes amid an international furor over an array of NSA programs disclosed by former agency contractor Edward Snowden, who is hiding under asylum in Russia.

Privacy advocate Bruce Schneier called the speech "extraordinarily important" and a "great start," but said Obama ignored key questions.

"He primarily talked about telephone metadata, but he didn't mention Internet metadata," said Schneier, author of several books about privacy and cryptography. Obama did not address international cooperation between intelligence agencies -- potentially a huge loophole in any privacy safeguard.

"If the U.S. can't collect (data on U.S. citizens), can we ask the U.K. to do it?" Schneier said.

Obama defended the NSA, saying the nation's spies are not "cavalier about the civil liberties of our fellow citizens."

"The most striking thing that I took away from the president's speech is he clearly doesn't think that what the NSA is doing and has been doing is a threat to Americans' privacy," said Ryan Grauer, professor of international affairs at the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

Rather than ending the mass collection of Americans' telephone data, Obama said he wants the data held by someone other than the government. Who that would be is undetermined.

"It takes potential abuses out of the hands of bureaucrats and puts it in the hands of private individuals. Who's to say the abuses aren't going to still happen there?" said Christopher Stevens, a professor in the government, law and national security program at Misericordia University, a Catholic university in Dallas, Luzerne County. …

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