Obama Announces NSA Reforms

As we predicted last year, President Obama has announced a partial end to the National Security Agency’s surveillance dragnet. We’re still parsing official documents and expert reaction, but  here are the bullet points:

  • Obama is promising major reforms to the bulk collection of Internet and phone data. Until plans are finalized, the NSA may only query its data stores with judicial approval or in an emergency.
  • James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, in consultation with Attorney General Eric Holder, will annually review future opinions on surveillance courts for purposes of protecting privacy and declassification.
  • Immediately, the NSA will only be able to look at suspects “two hops,” instead of three, away from a target suspect. Before, the NSA and other agencies could look at associations that were a “friend of a friend of a friend.” Most people are three connections away from millions (or hundreds of millions) of others. With one less hop — friends of friends — the NSA could still investigate a large percentage of the US, since each individual has about 200,000-400,000 of these associations.
  • Obama claims for the first time, the US will be extending increased privacy protections to our friends overseas, including many of the same liberties afforded to US citizens. Details to come.
  • Obama will ask Congress to create an independent review group to press for civil liberties at intelligence agencies and during secret court hearings.

Readers can review the official White House proposals below. We’ll have more analysis soon.