Monday, July 6, 2015

When Will Surveillance Reform Stop Being Just ‘Cool’?

Last week, former National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden declared that he was “cool” with the recently enacted USA Freedom Act, which reined in government bulk collection of Americans’ phone records. His characterization of that program as “little” is no doubt accurate. Information from the archive of documents released by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has revealed many other programs that pose equal or greater risks to Americans’ privacy.

But Hayden is too quick to assume that the phone records program will be the only reform. The passage of the USA Freedom Act is the first curtailment of intelligence authorities since the 9/11 attacks and should mark the beginning — not the end — of reform.

It’s no surprise that Congress chose to tackle the phone record program first. It is relatively straightforward for people to understand, and its goal of amassing a vast database of information about Americans is patently difficult to square with our constitutional values. Two review boards found it to be of minimal counterterrorism value, and a federal appeals court declared it illegal. Even the intelligence community and the president were amenable to reform.

But Congress is well aware that this reform is insufficient. Many of the votes against the act in the House and Senate came from lawmakers who believe it didn’t go far enough.


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