Obama's NSA Reform: Electronic Frontier Foundation Levies Harsh ScoreCard
Internet rights advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation took the trouble to "score" President Obama's promises on reforming the National Security Agency's snooping practices.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation is a watchdog group founded in 1990 to protect individuals' free speech, privacy, innovation, and consumer rights on the internet. Besides bringing or defending lawsuits to challenge government and corporate actions regarding the internet, the EFF is a vocal media opinion source with its own rigorous view of how the internet should exist and grow.
In scoring President Obama's reforms for the NSA's surveillance program -- a long-awaited move for the President, after ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked a trove of documents revealing highly controversial spying practices by the agency -- the EFF's verdict stirs a lot of interesting food for thought, if not also controversy. Here's a rundown of what they had to say.
Obama Scored, But Not That High
The EFF's overall score for President Obama's NSA reform proposals is a 3.5 out of 12 possible points. Not very high, but perhaps the EFF's expectations were set higher than others, who mainly expected the president to try to "thread the needle" between the stance of surveillance proponents and privacy advocates.
Here are the 12 reforms (or points) the EFF graded Obama on.
Stop Mass Surveillance of Digital Communications
The EFF gave Obama a ".2" on this, saying that for a full point, Obama would have to declare the end of surveillance of phone records, internet communications, and overseas communications. Instead, Obama only ended the phone records surveillance, but also "left the door open" for third parties to maintain a similar record.
Protect the Privacy Rights of Foreigners
Since president Obama decided to end all surveillance not related to crime or national security, as well as end eavesdropping on top foreign officials, he got a ".3" from the EFF. However, Obama did not specifically call for an end of surveillance on foreign staffers and less-than-top officials.
No Data Retention Mandate
While Obama called for a transition period to find a non-government solution to the NSA's storing vast databases of phone record, the EFF wanted Obama to reject the idea of retaining data on citizens completely, so they gave him a big fat "0".
Ban No-Review National Security Letters
Because Obama decided to give IT and telecom companies the ability to be more open about government requests for data, the EFF gave him a ".5". He lost the other half because National Security Letters can still be issued prior judicial approval.
Stop Undermining Internet Security
The NSA has been caught secretly paying security companies to weaken their code, as well as being accused of weakening worldwide encryption standards. As LatinPost mentioned, Obama said nothing about this, and the EFF agreed, giving Obama a "0."
Oppose the FISA Improvements Act
This bill would have made the NSA's phone records collection part of U.S. Law. President Obama clearly isn't supporting this because he's changing NSA practices anyway. The EFF gave him a whole point!
Reject the Third Party Doctrine
The EFF thinks the idea of involving a "third party" like a service provider to get around government/citizen privacy expectations is a terrible idea. The EFF gave him a "0" for being "silent on the issue," even though Obama did point out the legal ambiguities of a "third party" in passing.
Provide a Full Public Accounting of Our Surveillance Apparatus
Obama appointed John Podesta to lead a comprehensive review of "big data and privacy", but the EFF only gave Obama a half point because ordering a review is one thing, the product may be something else.
Embrace Meaningful Transparency Reform
While Obama hinted at allowing IT and telecoms more transparency, he didn't mention any reforms to government secrecy. The EFF gave him a 0.
Reform the FISA Court
What might have been the biggest surprise to the low-expectations crowd was that Obama agreed to have independent privacy advocates added to the secret FISA court. He also called for an annual process to review FISA court decisions for possible declassification. The EFF gave him another whole point!
Protect National Security Whistleblowers and Give Criminal Defendants All Surveillance Evidence
Obama mentioned Edward Snowden twice, but did not give an indication that he will give whistleblowers any more protections than they already have (which is very little). He also didn't mention reports of NSA data making its way to criminal investigations by DEA and other law enforcement - and being used without telling the accused, which is in conflict with the Sixth Amendment. The EFF gave Obama two "0's" on these points.
President Obama said in his speech, "this debate will make us stronger." That's probably true, and the EFF's scorecard definitely raises points for debate - even if you don't agree on the organization's high expectations.
You should check out the EFF's Scorecard Page for more details on their thinking with each one of these points. And let us know in the comments: What do you think? Were you encouraged by Obama's reforms or think it's a tiny dent in a big problem?
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