Friday, January 17, 2014
Obama takes the sting out of NSA surveillance in speech today
President Obama spoke shortly after 11 AM EST Friday morning and announced changes in data collection that he had ordered.
The NSA will not be able to obtain phone pen registers of domestic civilians without court supervision. However, it appears that a database of the metadata will still exist, but not be usable by the NSA without permission from a third government party.
Normally information can be sought about calls and Internet communications when there is some suspicion, like being within “two degrees of separation” (down from three) from communication with a suspicious agent overseas (like an Al Qeada safehouse). Obama said that before 9/11, the NSA had information about calls to a safehouse, but did not know that the third party was already in the US and it does need to be able to find that out.
The text of the president’s speech on the White House site is here.
My take: as a practical matter, most of us are at more risk from crime and terror (domestic and foreign) than the NSA, Snowden notwithstanding. But a lot of intelligence has to do with understanding what makes enemies tick, and connecting the dots that probably don’t ahow up in NSA’s automated processes. It’s amazing, and frightening, what can show up in fully public posts in social media.