With widespread criticism and even outrage by U.S. citizens and American allies over the National Security Agency's espionage programs, President Obama announced reforms to the agency's mission on Friday while remaining firm in his stance that intelligence gathering is vital to U.S. security.
The collection of massive amounts of data is unlikely to go away, however Obama did say the programs in place should be more transparent so that U.S. citizens know what the NSA is doing. Since the events of 9/11, the U.S. has been engaged in the collection of phone record metadata. Obama said that metadata -- lists of phone calls made by Americans that show which numbers were called and when -- would no longer be held by the NSA but would be controlled by a third party, with limited access by the NSA. He directed Attorney General Eric Holder to report back to him on the best way to accomplish that.
More than Expected
When it was first announced the president would be making changes to the NSA's spying programs, many privacy advocates were skeptical those changes would be sufficient. Now that Obama has made his announcement, the scope of the reforms seems much wider than expected.
A senior administration official told CNN that the entire phone metadata collection program would no longer be present "as it currently exists," and with today's announcement, that seems to be true. Data that has already been collected is also going to be taken away from the NSA once the administration finds a better place to keep the records. Obama said the NSA would have to seek permission from the Federal Surveillance Court before searching the database.
Going Far Enough
The biggest question still present is whether or not today's reforms will be enacted in a way that is in line with the recommendations of the Review Group on Intelligence, which was appointed by Obama to examine NSA activities. The group's recommendations included limits on foreign spying, something NSA supporters would not like to see happen.
We asked Charles King, principal analyst for Pund-IT, for his thoughts on what changes Obama is likely to make moving forward from today's announcement. He said winding down or killing outright phone record metadata collection would be "smart practically, politically and economically."
"However, I don't expect overseas surveillance programs to be meaningfully reduced or corralled," King told us.. "The fact is that spying on foreign powers, including the closest of allies, is a common practice globally, and includes programs financed/managed by U.S. allies complaining most loudly about the programs exposed by Edward Snowden."
Although it is more difficult for Obama to take a harsh stance against the former NSA contract employee now that he agrees reforms need to be made, the President remains critical of the way that Snowden released the information. A request by the American Civil Liberties Union for Snowden's immunity from prosecution was not acknowledged with Friday's announcement, forcing him to remain in Russia, where he has been granted temporary asylum, for the time being.