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Thursday, 19 December 2013 12:37

NSA review recommends sweeping changes Featured

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US President Barack Obama’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies has released its report. It recommends many changes, but some say it doesn’t go far enough. And they are only recommendations – nothing has yet changed.

The 300 page report is called ‘Liberty and Security in a Changing World’ It has been released in its entirety, totally unclassified.

The report, by five advisors, makes 46 recommendations which it says are “designed to protect national security and advance our foreign policy while respecting our longstanding commitment to privacy and civil liberties.”

The report says the review group recognises the need to maintain the public trust – including the trust of US friends and allies abroad – and proposes steps to reduce the risk of unauthorised disclosures, after the well-publicised Bradley Manning and Ed Snowden leaks.

“In particular, the report highlights the need to develop principles designed to safeguarding liberty and security in changing world. The recommendations emphasise risk management and the need to balance a wide range of potential consequences, including both costs and benefits, in considering potential reforms.”

The recommendations include:

  • Limits to bulk collection of data. The report supports legislation to terminate the storage of bulk telephony metadata by the US Government.
  • Increase Transparency. The report urges the US Congress to enact legislation authorising telephone, Internet, and other providers to disclose publicly general information about orders they receive directing them to provide information to the Government.
  • Enhance the Privacy of Non-US Persons. The report sets out several steps that the US Government should take to protect the privacy of non-US persons, including extending protections of the Privacy Act to non-US persons.
  • White House Review. The report recommends that President Obama create a new process to approve sensitive intelligence activities, including policy makers responsible for US economic policy.
  • Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). Congress should create the position of Public Interest Advocate to represent the interests of privacy and civil liberties before the court, increase the transparency of FISC decisions, and change the process by which judges are appointed.
  • Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB). The advisors urge the creation of a newly chartered, strengthened, and independent Civil Liberties and Privacy Protection Board (CLPP Board) to replace the existing PCLOB, with authority to review government activity relating to foreign intelligence rather than only for counterterrorism.
  • National Security Agency. The report recommends that the position of NSA director should be Senate-confirmed, civilians should be eligible to hold the position, and US Cyber Command should be separated from the NSA so that a single person would no longer wear two hats. In addition, the report recommends that the Information Assurance Directorate (IAD) be made into a separate agency with the Department of Defense.
  • Global Communications Technology. The report recommends that the US Government fully support and not undermine efforts to create strong global encryption standards, and take other measures to prompt prosperity, security, and openness on the Internet.
  • Insider Threats. The report recommends a series of steps to reduce the risks associated with insider threats. These include modifications to both personnel vetting and to network security. It also recommends the institution of a Work-Related Access approach to the dissemination of classified information and implementation of Information Rights Management software.

“The report emphasises throughout that the central task is one of managing a wide assortment of risks,” said the Review Group in a statement. “We are hopeful that the recommendations made here might prove helpful in striking the right balance. Free nations must protect themselves, and nations that protect themselves must remain free.”

The report was released earlier than expected, possibly because of a damaging finding by a federal judge this week that the bulk collection of data by the NSA and other agencies was almost certainly unconstitutional.

“The president's panel agreed with the growing consensus that mass electronic surveillance has no place in American society,” said Kurt Opsahl of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has been leading many of the protests against the NSA’s activities. “We're especially happy to see the review board 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.

"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. While we're happy that the panel acknowledged that foreigners abroad need some additional privacy protections, mass surveillance isn't acceptable for Americans or foreigners."

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Graeme Philipson

Graeme Philipson is senior associate editor at iTWire. He is one of Australia’s longest serving and most experienced IT journalists. He is author of the only definitive history of the Australian IT industry, ‘A Vision Splendid: The History of Australian Computing.’

He has been in the high tech industry for more than 30 years, most of that time as a market researcher, analyst and journalist. He was founding editor of MIS magazine, and is a former editor of Computerworld Australia. He was a research director for Gartner Asia Pacific and research manager for the Yankee Group Australia. He was a long time weekly IT columnist in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and is a recipient of the Kester Award for lifetime achievement in IT journalism.

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