The much expected Obama speech regarding the NSA reform proved to be a rather big disappointment.The US president did discuss some changes, but the most important things were left ignored and many questions remain unanswered.
In brief, Obama ordered the end of bulk telephone metadata collection effective immediately. Well, sort of. More specifically, he said the NSA now needs a court order every time it wants any type of metadata, but failed to mention who exactly will be holding the records. Previous reports indicated that third parties would be required to keep the entire trove of data, such as telcos, but that has yet to be confirmed.
Another reform Obama discussed regards the information the NSA collects on foreign targets overseas under Section 702. Following the huge diplomatic scandal resulted from reports that the United States was spying on world leaders, this seemed like an important reform to perform immediately. However, the details are sparse about how the changes will affect the NSA exactly.
The United States president also discussed the lack of transparency surrounding the National Security Agency. Obama said that there would be a policy change to make national security letters secret for only a limited period of time. This should, in the end, increase transparency, something that activists have been demanding for a long time.
Many recommendations made by the White House review panel were completely ignored, while other programs that were revealed in the past seven months weren’t even addressed. For instance, PRISM was never mentioned and neither was the mass SMS collection program, to name just a few.
Obama also said that since this was an open investigation, he would not dwell on Edward Snowden’s actions or motivations, failing to point out that without the leaks today’s discussions wouldn’t take place.
There are many loopholes left in Obama’s statement and many questions left unanswered. Perhaps we’ll find out more in the days to come, including a clear and complete list of the reforms the White House will implement and how they are going to change the way intelligence is collected by the NSA.