US spy review seeks privacy protection for foreign citizens

DPA Washington | Updated on December 19, 2013

The United States should take “significant steps” to protect the privacy of foreign citizens and re-evaluate its surveillance of foreign leaders, a review panel tasked with examining US spy programmes said in a report released Wednesday.

The White House released 46 recommendations as President Barack Obama weighs changes to surveillance in the wake of revelations about mass surveillance by the National Security Agency.

The review recommends US spy agencies no longer store mass records on US telephone calls. Telephone information should instead be stored by private companies or third parties, for the Government to query only when necessary for national security purposes.

“As a general rule and without senior policy review, the Government should not be permitted to collect and store mass, undigested, non-public personal information about US persons for the purpose of enabling future queries and data-mining for foreign intelligence purposes,” the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies said in its report to Obama.

The NSA currently stores up to five years of data on virtually all US telephone calls, including the telephone numbers of the call originator and recipient.

Obama met on Wednesday with the committee that wrote the recommendations, noting “the group’s report represented a consensus view, particularly significant given the broad scope of the members’ expertise in counter-terrorism, intelligence, oversight, privacy and civil liberties,” the White House said.

Obama will not comment on the proposals until he makes decisions about which recommendations to adopt next month.

Surveillance of foreign citizens must be authorised by law, must be directly tied to national security interests and must be subject to oversight, the panel told Obama.

It recommended a new process requiring “highest-level approval” for spying on foreign leaders, including evaluating the motivations for the spying and whether the countries involved “share fundamental values and interests” with the United States.

The US should consider agreements with a small number of allies to set out intelligence collection guidelines regarding each others’ citizens, the group recommended.

The report urged greater judicial and congressional oversight and called for making public more information about surveillance programmes.

The report was delivered last week to Obama, and the White House had planned to release the report next month after weighing its recommendations. Officials instead decided to release the document on Wednesday, after inaccurate and incomplete press reports about the report.

The review was “a substantive, lengthy report” that requires review and assessment, White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

The White House is reviewing the recommendations from the group. The internal review is to be completed in January, and Obama will then deliver remarks about how to move forward.

Obama will review the report over his Christmas holiday next week in Hawaii, and his decision likely will be delivered before his State of the Union address on January 28, Carney said, declining to provide a more specific timeframe.

“The review is looking across the board at our intelligence gathering to ensure that when we gather intelligence, we are properly accounting for both the security of our citizens and our allies and the privacy concerns shared by Americans and citizens around the world,” Carney said.

“We need to ensure that our intelligence resources are most effectively supporting our foreign policy and national security objectives, that we are more effectively weighing the risks and rewards of our activities. And that includes ensuring that we are above all focused on the threats to the American people.”

The review follows revelations about the extent of US spying efforts made by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Internal documents provided by Snowden to the media revealed the bulk collection of telephone and internet records and spying on foreign leaders’ mobile phones.

The news prompted outrage from US allies and civil libertarians.

The American Civil Liberties Union welcomed the review’s recommendations, particularly the end of bulk telephone data collection.

“NSA’s surveillance programmes are un-American, unconstitutional and need to be reined in,” executive director Anthony Romero said. “We urge President Obama to accept his own review panel’s recommendations and end these programmes.”

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, a Government body, welcomed the review and urged “continuing public discussion” of surveillance programmes. It is conducting a review due to be released in January or early February.

US prosecutors charged Snowden with espionage and theft of Government property after he fled the United States. He has since been granted temporary asylum in Russia.

On Tuesday, Obama discussed surveillance with technology executives at the White House.

Published on December 19, 2013

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