What Obama Did (and Didn’t) Do to Reform the NSA

Written by Lauren C. Williams

President Obama scaled back the National Security Agency’s ability to collect and store telephone data, but did not embrace many of the recommendations experts have proposed to reform the NSA.

In a heavily-anticipated speech Friday, Obama said intelligence agencies can still collect millions of Americans phone records but will instead have to turn them over to a third party and get a judge’s approval before accessing them.

“When you cut through the noise, what’s really at stake is how we remain true to who we are in a world that is remaking itself at dizzying speed,” Obama said.

The NSA, however, will hold onto the records for now until the U.S. Department of Justice, Congress and national security officials agree on who will store the phone data. Starting immediately, the agency must get a secret court’s approval before tapping into the database. They must also start limiting their inquiries into American citizens who are “two hops” away from suspected terrorists, rather than three.

The presidential policy directive released Friday ahead of the speech specified that signals intelligence collection could not occur “for the purpose of suppressing or burdening criticism or dissent, or for disadvantaging persons based on their ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion.” The administration will also separately study privacy issues in big data collection in both the public and private sector, perhaps suggesting more sweeping reforms to come.

In its recommendations, the president’s NSA review board suggested phone companies or an independent, private third party keep the bulk phone data to reduce the risk of government abuse. Then the NSA and other intelligence agencies could only retrieve it after getting a court order under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Even though it hasn’t been decided who will house the phone data, Obama’s decision aligns with a bill introduced Tuesday by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) that mandates the government ask phone companies for records on a case-by-case basis. But the president’s reforms fall short of the pending Senate bill that seeks to abolish phone metadata collection altogether.

Obama addressed very few of the 46 recommendations drafted by his hand-picked review group.

But among the panel’s recommendations, Obama said there should be a public advocacy panel to monitor government programs that may compromise civil liberties. Obama asked Congress to assemble a panel of privacy experts that will weigh in on only “significant and novel cases” that could have broad privacy implications, a senior Obama Administration official said during a news conference call Friday. Because the FISA court also handles individual criminal cases, the privacy and civil liberties panel will only take part in cases “where the court is rendering a judgment that affects a broader privacy equity,” the official said.

However, Obama ducked some changes offered by the NSA panel. For example, no mention was made of the panel’s recommendation to close loopholes that allow government backdoor spying through U.S.-based tech companies, or reforming whistleblower protections.

This post was originally published in ThinkProgress

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons


Jim Ven
Jim Ven7 months ago

thanks for the article.

Deborah W.
Deborah W2 years ago

More government less freedom ... now a "third party reponsibility" for storage. How stacked will this one be ... and who in their righ mind would set themselves up for the blame game when things go wrong, letting those resposible for the mess off the hook yet again.

Takeover for other than the common good will continue because we allow it ... suck it up, or change it, we the people combined still have the power.

Joseph Belisle
Joseph Belisle2 years ago

Yes, you and everyone else on the planet will continue to be spied upon. Privacy?!?! Is a thing of the past. Any rules they may set up however pathetic will not be followed. They could care less about rights or liberties. Whatever maintains their base of power and empire. The human race may be tens of thousands of years old but we're still unevolved. It's still about power, control and fear.

Robert Hamm
Robert Hamm2 years ago

THINKING people who question…….TRULY question what life is about and what surrounds them NEVER GO TO FOX NEWS or any other cable news network for the truth. Not EVER.
The fact that you do speaks volumes about YOU.

Robert Hamm
Robert Hamm2 years ago

HOLY CRAP you used a lot of words to make yourself look even sillier. Now you are going to spew Fox drivel at what was said???/ HAHAAHAHAHAHAAHAHAAH.

It is pobvious you have read a few tthings in your lifetime…..I will give you some small credit for at least being curious enough to do so. But I am afraid ANYONE who thinks Fox is a place to accumulate truth is way too far off shore to have anything valid to say.

Paul B.
Paul B2 years ago


When the media FAILS to adequately inform the public of important issues, seeking to cover up or hide knowledge that would otherwise change the perception of those they are supposed to serve and protect from those in DC, then they become complicit in the deception , and as such NO longer of any value to society. It isn't that they lie as much as lack of coverage of important issues they ignore, and therefore aiding and abetting... one reason their ratings are plummeting, versus FOX who at least covers the stories, leaving it up to anyone to validate, agree or disagree, free to form their own perspective, but what you never hear about, you are never challenged to seek the truth. And that is bad for society, and freedom.

Paul B.
Paul B2 years ago

"Some pagan God grasping a roulette wheel." Close, but not quite.

It's the Buddhist "Wheel of Life". To me it represents the uncontrollable nature of life, a higher order that drives our interactions with the whole of life and the acceptance we must embrace in order to deal with encounters of all types.

Nature, physics, an evolving reactionary process is reality. Lacking free-will to actively and without cause, choose our paths in life, it is only what we learn, through an open mind and comprehension to form our beliefs. It is only through exposure that we learn anything for we only know what we know, incapable of spontaneous "creation" of knowledge. We create perceptions of reality which is the basis of our personal reality, true or not, it is these perceptions that matter most as to what we think, believe and how we react to events in our lives.

When they say, control the message and you control the argument, they are right. What people don't know may in fact hurt them, but it also serves to control them. Truth is the ultimate cleanser of lies and misrepresentations. Those who seek to hide, disguise or otherwise corrupt the truth are the most dangerous to society and the ones we should fear the most. this administration has mastered the art of that deception.

When the media FAILS to adequately inform the public of important issues, seeking to cover up or hide knowledge that would otherwise change the perception of those they are supposed to serve an

Michael T.
Michael T2 years ago

What is even more amusing than my avatar is yours. At first glance it looks like a Persian rug people walk on. Secondly, when I pull up your profile I see that it is the depiction of some pagan god grasping a roulette wheel that is spinning around its naval or something lower. Some people will worship anything.

Too bad this is serious stuff, impacting the lives of millions of citizens. As for my avatar appearing to be amused it is not that I am amused at how serious this NSA thing is, I am amused by the spout and spew you give to such issues. As Robert so rightly suggested, you aren’t capable of appreciating it for what it is.

Robert Hamm
Robert Hamm2 years ago

Bush is guilty of many things. Pnac isnt one of them He was surrrounded by men who had written it and demanded it be implemented. Obama is surrounded by men that demand NSA oversight because the march for PNAC is still in place although very much more hidden amd redacted by the forces that dont want to be blamed for it. He is doing the best he can with the power players he has to deal with. Sometimes they are simply too powerful to fight. The military industrial complex is not a conspiracy theory it has been well known and well documentted all the way back to Eisenhower. There is no mystique about it and its power is second to none in our country. They almost always get everything they want. Yes they do suffer losses occasionally……..but not all that often.

Obama isnt the best president we ever had or the worst. He is a Man struggling to do what he thinks is right. The “movement” is towards fascism……..Global corporatism. The movement will use presidents and congresses to get there if it can. Some elected leaders will be more effective at fighting the movement than others. If you cant see and fear the movement then you likely shouldnt be in here debating itt unlesss you like to look stupid.

Robert Hamm
Robert Hamm2 years ago

And here comes Paul to spread his hate of Liberals as usual…..and his insane hatred of Obama.

Most of what Michael said is true….and its true of Most presidents…including Bush. Byt time Bush was elected the platform for PNAC was already written and ready to be implemented. Jeb signed it and was apparently the one who was going to be president. Somehwere along the line they assumed George would be more electable. Almost everyon on Bush’s administration sighned pnac well before Bush was made president. It Became his platform for the rest of his tme in office.

Presidents are not Kings. They dodnt get to come in and implement their own personal wants and desires. it is their job to sell the party platform…..the “movement” so to speak.

Corporations have been petitioning the democrats for decades to get rid of health care and even pensions because theiur overseas competition doesnt have these burdens os fo course they can cpmpee agasint us more favorably. When the right is in office they petition the government to eliminate corporate taxes and regulations for exaxctly the same reason. Neither the left leaning or the right leaning president CHHODE these platforms. The party platform does and it is the rpesidents job to implementt them. The president is allowed a few pet projects of his own. But most all of it was party driven. Bush had no choice but to imple,et PNAC. He was surrounded by men who demanded it. Bush is giulty o