For many critics of the National Security Agency, President Barack Obama’s speech last week which unveiled new reforms to the government surveillance program, was likely disappointing. Though not without shortfalls, however, these proposed reforms should be seen as a much needed step in the right direction.
In wake of the storm of privacy rights concerns ignited by revelations of mass government electronic surveillance by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, President Obama appointed a task force to review the NSA surveillance program.
In response to the panel’s recommendations, the President delivered a speech to the Justice Department calling for limited government access to the billions of Americans’ phone records collected through the surveillance system, according to the Washington Post. Such reforms would make it compulsory for the government to obtain a court order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in order to access these phone records. Other reforms include limiting the scope within which numbers can be reviewed, as well as halting the monitoring on foreign allies.
Many critics of President Obama’s reforms argue that these reforms simply don’t go far enough — that ridding the NSA of the phone database all the while allowing it to retain the vast majority of other intelligence programs, including the government’s access to bulk telephone records (including phone numbers, call durations and locations), or metadata, doesn’t do enough to enact real change.
Yet what people must realize is that the NSA reform President Obama is calling for is exactly that — reform. The measures were never intended to rid the NSA of its intelligence programs deemed vital to ensuring national security.
So rather than asking, “How do we end this program?” The public should start asking, “How do we control it?”
One recommendation currently in consideration is to transfer the collection and storage of telephone metadata to a third party. In order to do this, President Obama announced a two-step plan: first, limit government oversight over the records currently in its possession and, second, brainstorm ways in which the government can transfer control of the records altogether to a third party.
Though there are still many questions to be answered regarding the scope of certain programs and the implementation of certain reforms, it is wrong to dismiss these proposed reforms as pointless or inadequate. The fact of the matter is that President Obama is ultimately faced with the difficult juggling act of balancing the need for national security with the demands for individual liberties. The decisions taken thus far to address these concerns should be seen as positive steps toward improving an unpopular, but ultimately vital, system.
Yasmeen Serhan is a sophomore majoring in international relations. She is also the Editorial Director of the Daily Trojan. “Point/Counterpoint” runs Fridays.