President Barack Obama delivered a major speech last week regarding the National Security Agency’s, or NSA’s, intelligence collection activities, both in the United States and around the world. There has been great controversy and confusion around these activities since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden began leaking details of these and other NSA programs last June. Many Americans were particularly shocked by the revelation that the government maintained a secret database of all the telephone calls made by or to phones in the United States. The existence of government data collection on this scale could influence the choices Americans make with profound negative effects on our society and economy.
A new report from President Obama’s handpicked review panel to examine the NSA programs has provided some clarity about the different NSA collection programs and focused the debate on whether such bulk collection should continue. The president has the authority right now to suspend this bulk collection and instead require the NSA to seek an order from the court that oversees this activity each time it wants to search phone records. Doing so in this manner would not harm national security but would get the government out of the mass data collection business and re-establish meaningful checks on the NSA when searching Americans’ phone records.
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