Obama Tries to Regain the Initiative on FISA

The American people need to have confidence in them as well. And that’s why, over the last few weeks, I’ve consulted members of Congress who come at this issue from many different perspectives. I’ve asked the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to review where our counterterrorism efforts and our values come into tension, and I directed my national security team to be more transparent and to pursue reforms of our laws and practices.

— President Barack Obama (August 9, 2013.

(1)   The Administration will work with Congress to pursue appropriate reforms to Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. After having a dialogue with members of Congress and civil libertarians, the President believes that there are steps that can be taken to give the American people confidence that there are additional safeguards against abuse.  For example, steps could be taken to put in place greater oversight, transparency, and constraints on the use of this authority.

(2)   The Administration will work with Congress to improve the public’s confidence in the oversight conducted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC).  Specifically, steps can be taken to make sure civil liberties concerns have a greater voice in appropriate cases by ensuring that the government’s position is challenged by an adversary.

(3)   The President directed the Intelligence Community to make public as much information about these programs as possible. Already, the Administration has declassified unprecedented information about the activities of the NSA. On July 31, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) made public three documents dealing with the section 215 program. The NSA is taking steps to put in place a full time Civil Liberties and Privacy Officer, and has released information that details its mission, authorities and oversight. The Intelligence Community is creating a website that will serve as a hub for further transparency. This will give Americans – and the world – the ability to learn more about what our intelligence community does; how it does it; and why.

(4)   The President called for a high-level group of outside experts to review our intelligence and communications technologies.  The President is tasking this group to step back and review our capabilities – particularly our surveillance technologies. They will consider how we can maintain the public’s trust, and how this surveillance impacts our foreign policy – particularly in an age when more and more information is becoming public. They will provide an interim report in 60 days, and a final report by the end of this year, so that we can move forward with a better understanding of how these programs impact our security, our privacy, and our foreign policy.