Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Reaction To President Obama's NSA Speech

Reporting and reaction to the President's plans to rein in and reconfigure the NSA's program of intelligence gathering, here and here from the New York Times, here from the Christian Science Monitor, here from CNN, here from the Los Angeles Times, here from the Guardian, and here from the Washington Post (both of the latter discussing reaction from abroad).

On the 20th of January, Claude Moraes, who is heading the European Parliament's inquiry into the mass surveillance of EU citizens, released the following statement:

Today's speech from President Obama marks a substantial step forward in addressing the serious concerns from EU Member States in relation to NSA activities on mass surveillance and spying. Whilst he has now recognised that there is a need for additional privacy protection in the US for EU citizens, his comments may not have been enough to restore confidence following the confusion and concern over surveillance and spying allegations in relation to EU citizens, EU Member States, EU leaders and EU Institutions. It is clear the language was substantial but there will be a clear pause before EU citizens and other non-US targets of NSA alleged surveillance can feel that they have been assured of protection in law.

What we are seeking is firm, concrete assurance from the US that they will make the necessary reforms to guarantee European citizens an end to the blanket collection of personal data of innocent people. We are asking for a clear path to judicial redress rights for EU citizens and a firm commitment to finalising an EU-US umbrella agreement on data transfer for law enforcement purposes. We needed a clear message to reassure EU citizens, who have serious concerns relating to the use of metadata for potentially negative or illegal purposes, that they will have a right to judicial redress, which would deter such potential actions from the NSA.

The speech talked about the potential commercial consequences of the Edward Snowden disclosures on US companies many of whom are household names. For EU citizens the issue will be whether or not the President has done enough in the speech to restore the damage to the reputation of many major IT companies who suffered from allegations of collusion with NSA.

In order to rebuild trust, we need the US authorities to put an end to current discrimination whereby European citizens have lower levels of privacy rights than US citizens, including ensuring privacy protection in US courts. It would have been good to have a more reassuring message on these issues with more clarity on future reform.

The speech was clearly weighted towards the NSA's relationship with a concerned US audience. The sections which apply to non-US targets of mass surveillance and spying allegations received clear acknowledgements of their anxieties and concerns but will have to wait and continue to lobby for a substantive set of reforms to ensure long standing protections which balance privacy and security in relation to the NSA.

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