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Government Surveillance

President Supports End to NSA Bulk Collection; Fails to Provide Clear Path Forward

Today, President Obama outlined his agenda for reform of the National Security Agency’s pervasive surveillance programs. While the President called for a number of significant reforms, the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) believes the proposed reforms fall short of what is needed, particularly in terms of actionable solutions. CDT released the following statement after the President’s remarks:

“The President today added his support to a growing consensus that bulk collection of communications metadata by the NSA must end. With consensus on this point from the President, his independent Review Group, civil society, and companies, we must now move to the question of how to address what we all agree is a fundamental privacy problem,” said Greg Nojeim, Director of CDT’s Project on Freedom, Security and Surveillance.

“While we were pleased to see the President acknowledge that bulk collection by the NSA is untenable, we were disappointed in his failure to offer a clear path forward on these reforms. Storage of bulk records by companies or a third party would be merely a shuffling of the chairs, not a real reform. The only true solution to this issue is restoration of a system of particularized requests, as would be required by the USA FREEDOM Act,” added Nojeim.

“Far more needs to be done to restore the faith of the American people and repair the damage done globally to the U.S. reputation as a defender of human rights on the Internet. We certainly welcome judicial review of metadata queries, the support for more transparency about surveillance, a voice for civil liberties at the FISA Court proceedings, and greater consideration of the rights of people outside the United States. The lack of specifics in the President’s remarks and in the directive he issued today means that this is only the beginning of a much-needed conversation, not the end. At any rate, these proposed changes do not fully address the fundamental problem of bulk collection of personal metadata and fail to adequately protect the rights of people around the world,” Nojeim added.

The President did not mention many needed reforms, including an update to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and measures to repair the damage to the Internet caused by the NSA’s efforts to undermine communications security. CDT released a scorecard showing the President’s stance on the most essential surveillance reform issues, which have received strong support from a broad spectrum of civil society organizations, the tech industry, and his own Review Group.