What will it take to stop mass spying?
Article by Mattathias Schwartz for The New Yorker
President Obama spent only a few moments of his State of the Union this week talking about the National Security Agency and civil liberties. A year before, he’d promised to “end” Section 215, the N.S.A.’s most controversial surveillance program, “as it currently exists.” In his speech last Tuesday, he said almost nothing concrete, aside from mentioning a forthcoming report “on how we’re keeping our promise to keep our country safe while strengthening privacy.”
Since Edward Snowden revealed the extent of the N.S.A.’s activities in the summer of 2013, there have been a number of official reports on the troubled relationship between surveillance and privacy—one from the President’s Review Group, two from the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, and another, last week, from the National Academy of Sciences. In August, 2013, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence started a Tumblr, on which they’ve posted many interesting and useful documents, including redacted orders from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA).
But, while the government has made some moves toward transparency about its surveillance programs, it has enacted few substantial reforms of them. The N.S.A. continues to use Section 215, named after a part of the Patriot Act, to collect metadata on hundreds of billions of U.S. phone calls. Obama has talked about moving the data to some third party. Congress has talked about more serious reforms, including an independent advocate who would represent privacy concerns before the FISA court. But the most significant reform that has been undertaken as the result of an order from Obama is a reduction in the scope of metadata searches, from three “hops,” or degrees of association, to two.
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