Obama must reform NSA in wake of Snowden leaks, says report

Barack Obama

Call to end NSA efforts to 'undermine' web security are 'vindication' of whistleblower

LAST UPDATED AT 12:44 ON Thu 19 Dec 2013

THE National Security Agency (NSA) should be "banned from attempting to undermine the security of the internet" and stripped of its power to collect phone data in bulk, a White House review panel recommends.

The measures to restrict the agency's surveillance powers are among 46 recommendations contained in the 300-page report by President Obama's NSA task force.

The proposals are "far less sweeping" than those proposed by campaigners, The Guardian says, and the recommendations have yet to be ratified by President Obama. But it is clear the revelations about mass surveillance triggered by classified documents leaked by Edward Snowden are having a profound effect in Washington.

The report was not due to be released for several weeks, the Guardian says. But the White House was "stung" into action after representatives of the biggest technology companies told Obama this week that "failure to rebuild public trust in communications privacy could damage the US economy".

Obama's efforts to rein in the NSA were endorsed by Russia's President Putin today. He told a press conference that NSA surveillance is necessary to fight terrorism, but added that the White House must "limit the appetite" of the agency with a clear set of ground rules.

Piers Morgan tweeted that the report's recommendations appeared to be "a total vindication of Snowden". The Politico website says the report "ups the pressure on President Barack Obama to back serious reforms".

However, Obama may be more concerned by a "half-buried" conclusion drawn by the panel: that the NSA's collection of vast amounts of phone data "hasn't actually done much to protect the country from terrorism".

If that conclusion is correct, it raises an important question, says Politico: "Just how much political capital is Obama willing to spend to keep the program going?"

Tech Crunch says some of the other key recommendations in the report include:

The government will not be allowed to hold on to phone data in bulk
Rather than the NSA holding vast databases of phone data, it would be kept by phone companies in response to specific requests from the agency. "The government should only access such data with a specific purpose, so it's unknown how the NSA would continue to mine networks for patterns – or if it would be allowed to at all," Tech Crunch says.

The NSA will stop undermining global security standards
Documents leaked by Snowden revealed that the NSA tries to crack encryption codes and encourages software developers to leave "loopholes" in security software that its agents can exploit. That must stop the report recommends.

Organisational changes
The director of the NSA should be confirmed by the US Senate and there should be a new privacy board to review strategies.

More transparency
The government should disclose the number of users who the NSA has requested to examine. · 

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