Obama’s NSA Task Force Recommends Major Reforms

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Today, the much-anticipated findings of President Obama’s National Security Agency task force have hit the wire [PDF]. The non-binding 200 page report of 40-plus recommendations calls for the end of many of the most controversial programs.

Here are the big takeaways:

1. The government would no longer hold on to phone records in bulk. Instead, phone companies might warehouse the data for individual requests from the government. The recommendations say that the government should only access such data with a specific purpose, so it’s unknown how the NSA would continue to mine networks for patterns — or if it would be allowed to at all.

Here’s the important quote, “We recommend that legislation should be enacted that terminates the storage of bulk telephony meta-data by the government.”

2. Stop undermining global security standards. The NSA likes to maintain undiscovered hacking tools (“zero-day exploits“) and force loopholes in Internet security standards. The work it’s doing to crack basic encryption falls along those lines as well. It helps them monitor more traffic, but makes the web overall a less safe place.

3. No tech company “backdoors”. Google and other major tech companies have vigorously denied that they create special backdoor access for NSA spying, but the report recommends they cease this supposedly non-existent practice anyway. It is unclear whether such backdoors were currently being built out or already in existence.

4. Organizational changes: The director of the NSA should be confirmed by the Senate and open to civilians, there should be a new privacy board to review strategies, and the secret court should have a special public advocate. This differs from previous leaks to the Wall Street Journal, which implied that the panel recommend a civilian director.

5. More transparency: The government should disclose the number of users who the NSA has requested to examine.

The panel follows a torrent of new developments, any of which may significantly alter the way U.S. intelligence agencies gather private data en masse. This week, a federal judge declared bulk collection of phone records to be unconstitutional, though the decision will likely have to wait for the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Members of congress aren’t sitting idly by for the courts; several groups have proposed various limitations on U.S. spying, broadly supported by the major tech companies, to end all bulk collection and disclose the number of users being spied on.

The Internet hive mind is collectively combing through the 200 page report. We’ll have more soon.

[Image Credit: Flickr user nolifebeforecoffee]