Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden on Tuesday hailed President Barack Obama’s plan to reform the NSA’s bulk surveillance programs as a “turning point” in the debate over privacy and security. Snowden’s statement was released by the American Civil Liberties Union, which is coordinating his legal representation as he faces charges for leaking a massive cache of classified files that sparked a massive public debate about the NSA’s activities.
“This is a turning point, and it marks the beginning of a new effort to reclaim our rights from the NSA and restore the public’s seat at the table of government,” Snowden said.
Late Monday night, the White House announced Obama intends to introduce legislation that would drastically reform the way the NSA collects “metadata” from Americans’ phone calls. By doing this, Snowden said Obama admitted the NSA’s bulk data collection programs are “in fact unnecessary.”
“The very first open and adversarial court to ever judge these programs has now declared them ‘Orwellian’ and ‘likely unconstitutional.’ … Congress is considering historic, albeit incomplete reforms. And President Obama has now confirmed that these mass surveillance programs, kept secret from the public and defended out of reflex rather than reason, are in fact unnecessary and should be ended,” Snowden said.
Obama’s coming legislative proposal would eliminate perhaps the most controversial aspect of the NSA’s collection methods — the government’s routine collection of Americans’ call data, and it would serve as the biggest change to the agency since Snowden’s documents became public last year.
Under the legislation, which will have to be passed by Congress, the NSA would no longer collect and store so-called metadata from Americans’ phones in bulk, leaving that to phone companies. The federal government would be required to obtain individual orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in order to get records from phone companies. The NSA currently retains phone data for five years, but under the proposal, phone companies would only be required to hold the data for 18 months.
Obama’s proposal will be one of a handful Congress considers. The bipartisan leaders of the House Intelligence Committee unveiled a similar plan on Tuesday. At a press conference in The Netherlands on Tuesday, Obama talked up the merits of his plan.
“I’m confident that it allows us to do what is necessary in order to deal with the dangers of a terrorist attack, but does so in a way that addresses some of the concerns that people have raised,” Obama said. “And I’m looking forward to working with Congress to make sure that we go ahead and pass the enabling legislation quickly so that we can get on with the business of effective law enforcement.”
Snowden has come under increased scrutiny over the past few days after unnamed U.S. officials told the Wall Street Journal they were “very nervous” about Russia’s recent ability to evade NSA spying methods. The story never mentioned Snowden, who is currently living in Russia under asylum, but it clearly implied he had somehow aided the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
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