A participant in a White House–sponsored review of surveillance activities described as “shameful” an apparent decision to leave most of the National Security Agency’s controversial bulk spying intact.

Sascha Meinrath, director of the Open Technology Institute, said that the review panel he advised was at risk of missing an opportunity to restore confidence in U.S. surveillance practices.

“The review group was searching for ways to make the most modest pivot necessary to continue business as usual,” Ms. Meinrath said.

Headed by the CIA’s former deputy director Michael Morrell, the review is expected to deliver its report to the United States President, the White House confirmed, although it is less clear when and how substantially its report will be available to the public.

National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said she would have no further comment “on a report that is not yet final and hasn’t yet been submitted to the White House”. Should the review group’s report resemble descriptions of it that leaked, the report “does nothing to alter the lack of trust the global populace has for what the U.S. is doing, and nothing to restore our reputation as an ethical internet steward,” said Ms. Meinrath, who met with the advisory panel and White House officials twice to discuss the bulk surveillance programmes that have sparked international outrage.

Leaks about the review group’s expected recommendations to the New York Times and Wall Street Journal strengthened the long-standing suspicions held by Ms. Meinrath and other participants that much of the NSA’s sweeping spy powers would survive. The New York Times quoted an anonymous official familiar with the group saying its report “says we can’t dismantle these programmes, but we need to change the way almost all of them operate”.

According to the leaks, the review group will recommend that bulk collection of every American’s phone call data continue with tighter restrictions than the “reasonable, articulable suspicion” standard for searching through them that the NSA currently employs. Less clear is whether the review will recommend removing authorities the NSA possesses to allow searches for Americans’ identifying information in its vast data bases of foreign communications content.

The leaks suggested that the review group would do less to restrain the bulk spying on foreign nationals, which is a more traditional NSA activity, although the Wall Street Journal referred to additional privacy safeguards. For surveillance of foreign leaders, the group looks likely to recommend that such spying be personally approved by the President or White House officials.

The report also embraces the idea of allowing a privacy advocate to contest government collection requests before the Fisa court. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2013


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