According to a newly-released Pew Research poll, most Americans feel that the president’s proposals to reform the National Security Agency will result in no significant change.
Nearly three-quarters of all polled feel that Obama’s changes will neither increase the protections on individuals’ privacy nor make fighting terrorism difficult.
The president’s proposal, which he outlined in a speech on Friday, represents a moderate step toward curbing the powers of the powerful intelligence-gathering agency. The president recommended that the NSA must narrow the numbers of “hops” or connections away from a target number the NSA can investigate, make attempts to get approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for each search and either have the telecoms or a third-party retain any metadata queried by the NSA.
The Pew Research poll also found that only 40 percent approve of the government’s collection of telephone and Internet data as part of its anti-terrorism efforts, compared to the 50 percent that approved in July. In addition, the majority of respondents feel that there are not adequate limits on the telephone and Internet data the government can collect.
“The task before us now is greater than simply repairing the damage done to our operations; or preventing more disclosures from taking place in the future. Instead, we have to make some important decisions about how to protect ourselves and sustain our leadership in the world, while upholding the civil liberties and privacy protections that our ideals — and our Constitution — require,” Obama said.
The proposals, however, fall short of the recommendations the White House’s NSA review panel suggested. The panel recommended that the government have no permanent custody of consumers’ metadata, that the legal standard under which the metadata is requested be raised and that data concerning Americans that is collected while surveilling on a foreign target is deleted immediately unless a “foreign intelligence value” can be assigned to the data.
“In none of this has there been a recognition that non-Americans outside the United States have a right to the privacy of their communications, that everybody has a right to the privacy of their metadata and that everybody has a right not to have their electronic communications scooped up into a government computer,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. Roth is part of a growing crowd of critics to the president’s proposals, which, among other things, made no concessions or recognition to NSA Internet surveillance.
The president’s recommendation comes in the wake of a federal ruling that found the NSA surveillance program “likely unconstitutional” and in violation of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. The program was disclosed to the public after the Guardian published classified documents detailing the program, which were stolen by former Booz Allen Hamilton — a NSA contractor — employee Edward Snowden.