NSA review board proposes 46 changes to US surveillance practices

nsa predictive data

Times, they may be a’ changin’ – at least as far as the National Security Agency’s spying activities are concerned.

The White House today released the full report (pdf) from the presidential NSA review panel, which recommends dozens of changes to the way the spy agency conducts its operations. If adopted, the recommended polices would provide greater oversight and accountability, and aim to restore Americans’ trust in both the US intelligence community and US-based technology companies.

End NSA’s bulk phone metadata collection

For average Americans, the most significant recommendation may be changes in the bulk collection of telephone metadata, which was recently deemed likely unconstitutional by a federal judge who called it “almost-Orwellian.” Rather than allow the NSA to continue its practice of collecting and storing the metadata of virtually every phone call made in the United States, the review panel believes private companies should collect the data, and only make it accessible to the NSA under court order.

“In our view, the current storage by the government of bulk meta-data creates potential risks to public trust, personal privacy, and civil liberty,” wrote the panel. “We recognize that the government might need access to such meta-data, which should be held instead either by private providers or by a private third party. This approach would allow the government access to the relevant information when such access is justified, and thus protect national security without unnecessarily threatening privacy and liberty.”

Restrict US government’s demands for private data

Additionally, the review board proposes “important restrictions” on the ability of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), which oversees the NSA’s surveillance activities in secret, to “compel third parties (such as telephone service providers) to disclose private information to the government.” Further, it endorses tighter restrictions on the FBI’s used of National Security Letters (NSLs), which require individuals or organizations to hand over private information while often times forbidding the recipients from speaking about government’s demands. The panel says NSLs should only be used with “prior judicial review except in emergencies, where time is of the essence.”

Stop breaking encryption and installing backdoors

The panel also suggests that the NSA halt its efforts to weaken commercial encryption standards, like PGP and others, that are used to protect communications and data store in the cloud. It further advises the NSA to stop attempts to discover or create so-called backdoors into commercial technology products to allow for agency intrusion; and to end its attempts to discover vulnerabilities in commercial software for cyberattack purposes, as a way to help rebuild trust in US-made computer programs.

Increase transparency and public participation

In another move that poised to appease US technology companies, many of which have demanded reforms of the NSA, the panel calls for greater transparency concerning government requests for personal data. The changes include allowing companies like Google or Facebook to divulge more information about the number and types of requests they receive from the government, and the number of people affected by these requests. The federal government is also asked to issue regular reports about its requests for citizens’ data.

Importantly, the panel further endorses transparency though a “public interest advocate to represent the interests of privacy and civil liberties” in arguments before the FISC. While these cases would be classified – meaning the public would not likely have access to the court records – it would be a marked increase in the ability of the public to have a say in the ways our rights are affected by the NSA’s activities.

Moving forward

The 300-page report includes a total of 46 recommendations that would, if enacted, affect the privacy of both US citizens and non-US persons, whom the panel believes should receive the same protections provided by the Privacy Act of 1974 as Americans.

It is not clear which, if any, of these proposed policy changes the government will enact. As The New York Times reports, some of the changes can be instituted by President Obama alone, while others require congressional action. One of the most fundamental proposed changes in the NSA’s structure – to split command of the NSA between different agencies – has already been rejected by Obama.

Even if all of the changes are adopted, the NSA’s surveillance activities will continue.

Read the panel’s full report below:

NSA Review Board Final Report: LIBERTY AND SECURITY IN A CHANGING WORLD

Computing

Apple CEO demands Bloomberg retract its Chinese surveillance story

Apple CEO Tim Cook is calling on Bloomberg to retract a story alleging that Apple had purchased compromised servers that allowed the Chinese government to spy on Apple. Apple's investigation found no truth to the story.
Computing

Protect your digital identity with these four easy steps to online anonymity

You don't have to be a secret agent or a notorious hacktivist to care about anonymity. Consult this guide to learn tips, tricks, and best practices for staying anonymous and keeping your online activity private
Home Theater

Facebook might be planning a streaming box for your TV that watches you back

Facebook is reportedly working on a piece of streaming media hardware for your living room with a built-in camera for video calls, something people may not want given the company's recent controversies.
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Mobile

Need a quick battery boost? Try one of our favorite portable chargers

Battery life still tops the polls when it comes to smartphone concerns. If it’s bugging you, then maybe it’s time to snag yourself a portable charger. Here are our picks of the best portable chargers.
Mobile

Which new iPhone is the best? iPhone XS vs. iPhone XS Max vs. iPhone XR

Apple has three new iPhone models to choose from this year, making the choice a little harder than usual. What's the difference between the iPhone XS, the iPhone XS Max, and the iPhone XR, and which is best?
Product Review

Huawei’s monster Mate 20 X makes the Galaxy Note 9 look small

The Huawei Mate 20 X has a 7.2-inch screen, but is surprisingly manageable to hold, yet still a little too big to carry around. Huawei’s pushing the phone’s ability as a mobile gaming handheld, challenging the Nintendo Switch.
Mobile

Google may charge up to $40 per Android device for app suite following EU ruling

Google announced that it will be charging Android device manufacturers in Europe a licensing fee to use its apps and services. The announcement is part of an effort to comply with new European Commission regulations.
Mobile

Need a do-over? Here's how to factory reset an iPhone, from XS on down

Resetting an iPhone can alleviate all sorts of software woes, and wipe away personal data should you sell your device or give it to someone else. Here's how to factory reset an iPhone from within iOS or iTunes.
Mobile

How to sell your old Google Pixel or Pixel 2 for the most money

So, it's time for a expensive new smartphone, and you'd like to partially fund the purchase by selling your old Google Pixel. Find all the information you need to get as much money as possible for your Pixel or Pixel 2 here in our guide.
Mobile

The OnePlus 6T is coming a day earlier, event moved to October 29

According to a recent report, the launch of the OnePlus 6T could be different from any other OnePlus launch in history. How? It could have the backing of a major U.S. carrier. Here's everything we know about the OnePlus 6T.
Mobile

Sprint now lets you add Hulu's Live TV service to your unlimited plan

Sprint recently introduced three new data plans to its roster -- Unlimited Basic , Unlimited Plus, and Unlimited Premium. Here, we break down your options to help you decide which one is best for you and your family.
Photography

Camera shootout! Testing the latest Pixel, iPhone, and Galaxy Note in real life

Which takes the best photos, the Pixel 3 XL, iPhone XS Max, Galaxy Note 9, or Pixel 2 XL? We put the cameras on all these top-notch phones through their paces to see which performs best in the real world, from low light to portrait mode…
Mobile

Sams's Club offers $100 gift cards for iPhone XR pre-orders

After months of rumors and speculation, Apple has finally taken the wraps off of the new iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR. Now that the phones are out, you might be wondering how you can get them for yourself.