Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Recommendations from President's NSA Surveillance Review Group
The anticipated report from a panel of presidential advisors - - - Richard Clarke, Michael Morell, Peter Swire, and ConLawProfs Geoffrey Stone and Cass Sunstein - - - has just been released from The White House. It contains 46 recommendations, detailed in the Executive Summary and later discussed in the report.
Occuring amidst significant problems, such as the recent federal district judge's opinion casting doubt on the constitutionality of the collection of metadata from Verizon and the Edward Snowden revelations, the report concludes that the "current storage by the government of bulk meta-data creates potential risks to public trust, personal privacy, and civil liberty." But the report recognizes that government might need such metadata, and therefore recommends that it be held by "private providers or by a private third party." The report also recommends a series of changes at NSA, including having the Director be a "Senate-confirmed position" and suggesting that the Director be a civilian (at least next time).
There is some interesting constitutional analysis and rhetoric in the report. For example, under "Principles," the first one is "The United States Government must protect, at once, two different forms of security: national security and personal privacy." How should these interests be balanced? The report, quite interestingly, says this:
It is tempting to suggest that the underlying goal is to achieve the right “balance” between the two forms of security. The suggestion has an important element of truth. Some tradeoffs are inevitable; we shall explore the question of balance in some detail. But in critical respects, the suggestion is inadequate and misleading.
Some safeguards are not subject to balancing at all. In a free society, public officials should never engage in surveillance in order to punish their political enemies; to restrict freedom of speech or religion; to suppress legitimate criticism and dissent; to help their preferred companies or industries; to provide domestic companies with an unfair competitive advantage; or to benefit or burden members of groups defined in terms of religion, ethnicity, race, or gender. These prohibitions are foundational, and they apply both inside and outside our territorial borders.
The purposes of surveillance must be legitimate. If they are not, no amount of “balancing” can justify surveillance. For this reason, it is exceptionally important to create explicit prohibitions and safeguards, designed to reduce the risk that surveillance will ever be undertaken for illegitimate ends.
Certainly, there is much more to glean and analyze from the 300 plus page report, but some of the reasoning already seems noteworthy.