U.S. President Barack Obama has issued a memorandum to the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, to investigate the functioning of the intelligence community’s largest surveillance programmes run by the National Security Agency, in an attempt to assuage privacy concerns raised in Congress and among the public.
In a move that appeared to draw flak from Internet privacy advocacy groups for diluting the independence of the review of the NSA’s spying programmes that he promised last week, Mr. Obama said in the memorandum that the DNI should establish a Review Group that would assess whether the NSA was employing its “technical collection capabilities in a manner that optimally protects our national security and advances our foreign policy while appropriately accounting for other policy considerations, such as the risk of unauthorised disclosure.”
Pressure to reassess the Agency’s mass automated surveillance of the Internet and telephone communications of millions worldwide, including Americans, came after Congress came unprecedentedly close to defunding one of the NSA’s policies, the covert collection of telephone records of customers of telecom giant Verizon.
Details of the Verizon surveillance and others such as Internet snooping programmes PRISM and XKeyscore were revealed by whistleblower and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who has fled the U.S. and received temporary political asylum in Russia.
This week, while referencing the administration’s “need to maintain the public trust,” Mr. Obama however ordered the Group to channel its interim findings to the White House via the DNI within two months and provide a final report and recommendations to “no later than December 15, 2013.”
Internet privacy activists expressed alarm at Mr. Obama’s order with many pointing out that the president’s promise to appoint an “independent group” of “outside experts” to review the government’s surveillance programmes last week was undermined by the fact that the review would be led by DNI boss James Clapper.
Mr. Clapper faced fire in Congress in recent months for uttering a falsehood while testifying to the Senate Intelligence Committee, regarding whether Americans were being spied upon by the NSA. He later apologised for his remarks.
Further, the president’s latest memorandum made no mention of the need for outsiders’ or independent viewpoints, as he had said during remarks to the press last Friday.