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

Product Review

The new iPad Mini isn’t a beauty, but it performs like a beast

Apple’s new iPad Mini has beastly performance, fluid iOS 12 software, and good battery life. It also looks like it came straight out of 2015, because the design hasn’t been changed. Here's our review of Apple’s 7.9-inch tablet.
Computing

Worried about your online privacy? We tested the best VPN services

Browsing the web can be less secure than most users would hope. If that concerns you, a virtual private network — aka a VPN — is a decent solution. Check out a few of the best VPN services on the market.
Mobile

5G's arrival is transforming tech. Here's everything you need to know to keep up

It has been years in the making, but 5G is finally becoming a reality. While 5G coverage is still extremely limited, expect to see it expand in 2019. Not sure what 5G even is? Here's everything you need to know.
Mobile

Here are the best iPad Pro keyboard cases to pick up with your new tablet

The iPad Pro range can double as laptops, but they do need proper keyboards to fill in effectively. Thankfully, there are loads to choose from and we rounded up the best iPad Pro keyboard cases right here.
Mobile

24 must-have apps for rooted Android phones and tablets

Rooting your Android device opens up a world of possibilities, along with a few apps. Here are 24 of our favorites, so you can make the most of your rooted device and unleash the true power of Android.
Mobile

Wring the most out of iOS with the best commands for Siri

You may not know all the things you can say to Siri -- after all, Apple never released an official list of commands for its virtual assistant. Thankfully, we've compiled a list of the best Siri commands to help you out.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Robotic companions and computer-aided karaoke

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it's fun to gawk!
Computing

Breeze through security with these checkpoint-friendly laptop bags

Getting through airport security is a drag, but your laptop bag shouldn’t be. Thankfully, these checkpoint-friendly laptop bags will get you and your gear to your destination with ease.
Mobile

Flex your thumbs (and your brain) with these fun texting games

Gaming consoles keep getting more advanced, but you can still have fun with the good old Latin alphabet. Here are our picks for the best texting games, so you can make the most fun out of that limited data plan or basic cell phone.
Wearables

Alpina makes its AlpinerX smartwatch even more attractive with new colors

Alpina has introduced four new colors to its AlpinerX smartwatch range, breaking the usually sporty watch out into a more everyday casual design, and given the tech a slight makeover too.
Mobile

New gold finish makes Frederique Constant’s hybrid smartwatch flashier than ever

Frederique Constant has found considerable success with its luxury hybrid smartwatch, the Hybrid Manufacture, and has launched several new color schemes to help bring it even more attention.
Wearables

Tag Heuer’s Golf Edition smartwatch is a lot more than just a flash of new color

Tag Heuer's Golf Edition Connected Modular 45 smartwatch has a lot more going for it than just a flashy new color scheme. From the titanium body and black PVD coating to the new Golf app, this is a true special edition.
Mobile

Firefox Send file-sharing service is now an Android app

Mozilla has just launched Firefox Send as an Android app. The free service lets you share files of up 2.5GB via a web link that expires after a certain period of time or number of downloads.
Mobile

The best Sony Xperia 10 Plus cases to keep your smartphone safe

It's always a smart play to safeguard your smartphone with a decent case or cover. We've identified the best Sony Xperia 10 Plus cases here, so take your pick from rugged protection to slim style.