President Barack Obama has promised a “definitive statement” on the future of NSA surveillance techniques in the first month of 2014. In his end-of-year press conference he said he would be taking several weeks to digest the findings of the presidential NSA review panel, which recommended an end to the bulk collection of US telephone network metadata.
“I’m going to make a pretty definitive statement about all of this in January,” said the President, who did offer some defence of the National Security Agency. “It hasn’t been alleged that the NSA in some ways acted inappropriately in the use of this data, but what is also clear in the public debate, people are concerned about the prospect, the possibility of abuse.”
The panel has proposed 46 separate changes to the way that the NSA collects and uses its data, and it looks like the phone data collection program could be the first on the chopping block. While deflecting criticism from federal judge Richard Leon that this program was “almost-Orwellian” and unconstitutional, Obama did concede that changes could be made: “It is possible, for example, that some of the same information that the intelligence community feels is required to keep people safe can be obtained by having the private phone companies keep these records longer, and to create some mechanism in which they can be accessed in an effective fashion.”
It is now up to the President and the government to decide which of the panel’s recommendations are put into law, and the statement in January should go a long way to indicating what form these changes will take. There was no discussion of a pardon or plea deal for whistleblower Edward Snowden: “Mr Snowden is under indictment. He’s been charged with crimes, and that’s the province of the attorney general and, ultimately, a judge and jury,” said Obama.
“The fact of the matter is that the United States, for all our warts, is a country that abides by rule of law, that cares deeply about privacy, that cares about civil liberties, that cares about the Constitution,” concluded the President.