Obama Administration’s Surveillance Reforms Missing Key Fixes

February 3, 2015

Today, the Director of National Intelligence released a report detailing several new reforms to U.S. electronic surveillance practices as well as reforms that have been undertaken in the past year. But for many advocates, these reforms do not include the changes necessary to adequately protect Americans’ privacy.

Today’s reforms include some significant new measures, including new limitations on how the government can use information about Americans pulled in when the NSA collects the communications of foreigners overseas and a new three-year limit on the “gag order” that prevents companies from disclosing that they received certain requests for information from the government. However, the reforms do not address the most controversial and problematic aspects of the government’s surveillance practices.

The reforms announced today do not end the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records. Nor would they close the so-called “back door” that allows the government to sift through communications of foreign targets, collected without a warrant, for Americans’ calls and e-mails. And, while agencies reportedly will extend greater privacy protections to foreigners, these protections are riddled with loopholes and exceptions.

“The reforms highlighted in this report  are positive steps as far as they go, but the Snowden disclosures revealed that we need a fundamental course correction,” Goitein said. “As long as the government is collecting Americans’ telephone records, listening to their phone calls, and reading their e-mails without any suspicion of wrongdoing, the gulf between our constitutional values and the government’s surveillance practices remains.”