Obama Surveillance Reforms Fail to Impress

by Matt Klassen on January 21, 2014

Technology is a “tool for individual empowerment, not government control,” President Obama said in a highly anticipated speech about his proposed reforms to the United States National Security Agency’s surveillance activities on Friday, one that left many disappointed that not enough will be done to uphold the privacy of American citizens.

In his speech the President ordered the cessation of telephone metadata collection in its current form under Sector 215 of the Patriot Act, stating that the government will work on “establishing a mechanism that preserves the capabilities we need without the government holding this bulk metadata.” Instead, such metadata should be held—as it currently is—by telecommunications providers and accessed by the NSA only through legal channels.

Concerns were raised that while Obama’s speech was filled with the rhetoric of change, the President failed to adequately take responsibility for his government’s unacceptable data collection practices and failed to implement the necessary changes, meaning that its likely not enough will be done to repair the damage such surveillance has already caused in the tech sector, nor adequately prevent such reoccurrence in the future.

The President’s speech last week was made in response to recommendations from Obama’s handpicked NSA Review Group, as well as comments from recent White House meetings with the intelligence community, privacy advocates, and the technology industry.

One of the key issues on the docket was the issue of metadata collection, eventually the NSA vacuum that sucks up almost all the private communication data within theUnited Stateswithout a warrant. Seeing as this issue sits at the top of the laundry list of privacy concerns, it really wasn’t a surprise that Obama focused on this one, making sure his government solved the biggest problem in hopes of leaving the rest of the issues relatively untouched.

In fact, there was much left untouched by President Obama’s recent surveillance reforms, omissions that have left many concerned that not enough has been done to curb the illegal covert data collections practices of the NSA currently done under the guise of national security.

“We heard nothing in his speech or proposal that will repair the damage that has been done to the tech industry and the future of the Internet,” Matt Simons, director of social justice at ThoughtWorks, told TechNewsWorld. Looking deeper into Obama’s comments, one might think that the President is really hoping to maintain the status quo, only now hoping to couch it in safer more secure sounding language.

There were also those who took issue with the President’s comments about the NSA and the attempt to deflect some responsibility to the corporate sector. “There was a recognition by all who participated in these reviews that the challenges to our privacy do not come from government alone,” Obama said. “Corporations of all shapes and sizes track what you buy, store and analyze your data, and use it for commercial purposes. That’s how those targeted ads pop up on your computer and your smartphone periodically.”

Simply put, there is plenty of blame to around when it comes to unacceptable data collection practices, but it seems the government would rather point the finger at others than clean its own house, meaning that while the language surrounding government data collection has changed, my guess is the practices will remain exactly the same.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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