Background on the President’s Statement on Reforms to NSA Programs
President Obama believes that there should be increased transparency and reforms in our intelligence programs in order to give the public confidence that these programs have strong oversight and clear protections against abuse. That is what he has pursued as President, and today he is announcing several initiatives that will move that effort forward.
Since the disclosures were first made, the President has held a series of meetings with Intelligence Community leaders, during which he has emphasized the importance of transparency and openness and directed IC leadership to press forward with declassification of relevant materials, to the maximum extent possible, without undermining national security. Already, the Administration has declassified unprecedented information about the activities of the National Security Agency (NSA). On July 31, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) made public three documents dealing with the Section 215 program.
The Administration has also engaged Congress on these issues on 35 occasions, including several committee hearings and all-Senate and all-House Members’ meetings. On August 1, the President met with a group of bipartisan members of Congress to discuss key programs under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
The President and senior White House and Administration officials have also engaged in a national dialogue on privacy in the 21st century, soliciting feedback from relevant stakeholder groups in the private sector, academia, and civil society. To date, the Administration has taken various steps to advance this national privacy dialogue, including: meeting with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, and leading several conversations on privacy issues with a broad array of organizations representing industry, civil society, civil rights and transparency groups. Most recently, the President met with a group of leaders from the private sector, civil society and academia yesterday at the White House to discuss a range of privacy issues.
Today, the President directed his Administration to work with Congress to pursue appropriate reforms to our nation’s surveillance programs and the court that oversees them. Specifically, he laid out four steps his Administration will take:
(1) The Administration will work with Congress to pursue appropriate reforms to Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. After having a dialogue with members of Congress and civil libertarians, the President believes that there are steps that can be taken to give the American people confidence that there are additional safeguards against abuse. For example, steps could be taken to put in place greater oversight, transparency, and constraints on the use of this authority.
(2) The Administration will work with Congress to improve the public’s confidence in the oversight conducted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). Specifically, steps can be taken to make sure civil liberties concerns have a greater voice in appropriate cases by ensuring that the government’s position is challenged by an adversary.
(3) The President directed the Intelligence Community to make public as much information about these programs as possible. Already, the Administration has declassified unprecedented information about the activities of the NSA. On July 31, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) made public three documents dealing with the section 215 program. The NSA is taking steps to put in place a full time Civil Liberties and Privacy Officer, and has released information that details its mission, authorities and oversight. The Intelligence Community is creating a website that will serve as a hub for further transparency. This will give Americans – and the world – the ability to learn more about what our intelligence community does; how it does it; and why.
(4) The President called for a high-level group of outside experts to review our intelligence and communications technologies. The President is tasking this group to step back and review our capabilities – particularly our surveillance technologies. They will consider how we can maintain the public’s trust, and how this surveillance impacts our foreign policy – particularly in an age when more and more information is becoming public. They will provide an interim report in 60 days, and a final report by the end of this year, so that we can move forward with a better understanding of how these programs impact our security, our privacy, and our foreign policy.