erodes faith in
The leaks of Edward Snowden have spawned a welcome public debate over government spying.
WHILE THE recommendations of a presidential panel on government spying have been mostly welcomed, the 300-page report itself does nothing to restore faith in the privacy of electronic communications.
In fact, the report could be seen as doing just the opposite. It is a confession that the revelations of Edward Snowden are accurate, and that everyone for years has been monitored on a massive scale unprecedented in its scope and size.
The key question is now coming into focus: when will the erosion of trust be reversed, before it does lasting harm to freedom of expression and the high-tech economy so dependent on the trust of those who use it?
THE DETAILS of the panel’s 46 recommendations were widely reported, with The Guardian in the UK leading the way in its story Obama review panel: strip NSA of power to collect phone data records.
The report in The Guardian on the presidential panel’s recommendations on government spying.
“The National Security Agency should be banned from attempting to undermine the security of the internet and stripped of its power to collect telephone records in bulk, a White House review panel recommended on Wednesday,” reported Dan Roberts and Spencer Ackerman.
What was unsaid in this and similar accounts is that the panel’s report confirmed these things are actually occurring, and have been long standing practice.
“Though far less sweeping than campaigners have urged, and yet to be ratified by Obama, the report by his Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology comes as the White House faces growing pressure over its so-called “bulk collection” programs from US courts and business interests,” The Guardian reported.
“The White House was stung into releasing the report weeks earlier than expected after meeting America’s largest internet companies on Tuesday. The firms warned that failure to rebuild public trust in communications privacy could damage the US economy.”
This is the key element in the panel’s comprehensive report and urgent recommendations.
It was highlighted in a different context on Wednesday in The New York Times story Tech Leaders and Obama Find Shared Problem: Fading Public Trust.
Jackie Calmes and Nick Wingfield reported on the Tuesday event at the White House.
“The meeting of Mr. Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and 15 executives from the likes of Apple, Google, Facebook and Yahoo came a week after those companies and other giants, usually archrivals, united in a public campaign calling for reform in government surveillance practices.”
The essence came a few paragraphs down.
“Both sides are saying, ‘My biggest issue right now is trust,’ ” said Matthew Prince, co-founder and chief executive of CloudFlare, an Internet start-up.
Indeed, trust is at the core of the debate, which has exploded both domestically and abroad since the Snowden revelations began about six months ago.
Extensive damage has already been done; quantifying it is virtually impossible, but recognizing it is the first step towards restoring trust.
The statement by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in response to the panel’s report.
Not everyone lavished praise on the panel’s report.
The Electronic Freedom Foundation, an advocacy group, noted its concerns in a Statement on President’s Review Group’s NSA Report
“The report left open the door for future mass surveillance and failed to address the constitutionality of the NSA’s mass spying, recently questioned by the D.C. federal court and raised by EFF in its multiple lawsuits,” wrote Rebecca Jeschke.
“The president’s panel agreed with the growing consensus that mass electronic surveillance has no place in American society,” EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl said.
“The review board floats a number of interesting reform proposals, and we’re especially happy to see them condemn the NSA’s attacks on encryption and other security systems people rely upon.
“But we’re disappointed that the recommendations suggest a path to continue untargeted spying. Mass surveillance is still heinous, even if private company servers are holding the data instead of government data centers.”
The EFF is unambiguous in its opposition.
“We’re concerned that the panel appears to allow the NSA to continue the mass collection of emails, chats and other electronic communications of Americans under the pretext that the NSA is ‘targeting’ foreigners overseas,” said EFF Activist Trevor Timm. “Mass surveillance isn’t acceptable for Americans or foreigners.”
The issue was also addressed Thursday in an editorial in The New York Times titled Turn Off the Data Vacuum.
“The surveillance programs began before Mr. Obama’s presidency, but he allowed them to continue and grow in unprecedented ways,” the editorial said.
“One important step [for the president] would be to support legislation in Congress that would achieve many of the panel’s goals, and codify them to restrain future presidents.
“But Mr. Obama need not wait for Congress to act to implement the reforms he said he wants. He can quickly adopt his panel’s recommendation and end the ineffective and constitutionally dangerous dragnet surveillance.”
While the president should win praise for releasing the report long before its planned date, the pressure is now ratcheting up for something to be done.
Reform is urgently needed. The longer it is delayed, the more trust will erode. US technology companies are correctly fearful of the impact on their businesses and the economy.
But the real impetus is the constitutional protections afforded by the Fourth Amendment. One doesn’t have to be a legal scholar to conclude they have been ignored and violated as never before.
It is a dangerous moment for America, and it demands a quick and comprehensive response.
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