Reaction: President's Data Surveillance Changes Fall Short

It wasn't hard to collect the data from critics and supporters of the President's just-announced changes to NSA surveillance--bulk data collection will continue, but with new restrictions and privacy protections. It was pouring in from all quarters, with many saying it was a start, but not enough of one.

CTIA: The Wireless Association, which represents some of the telecom companies from whom the government gets that data, saw it as a first step.

“CTIA welcomes the President’s efforts to start a dialog to address these important issues," said CTIA VP Jot Carpenter, "and we look forward to working with the Administration, Congress and key stakeholders as they seek to develop policies that strike the appropriate balance between America’s national security interests and the civil liberties of American citizens. CTIA continues to believe that this balance can be achieved without the imposition of data retention mandates that obligate carriers to keep customer information any longer than necessary for legitimate business purposes.”

It was not clear whether the Obama Administration agreed. The President said Friday that the government would no longer be retaining the data, but did not say just who would, though telecom companies, third parties, or some combination are likely suspects. The President suggested the solution was still a work in progress, but cited issues with both.

"Relying solely on the records of multiple providers, for example, could require companies to alter their procedures in ways that raise new privacy concerns. On the other hand, any third party maintaining a single, consolidated data-base would be carrying out what is essentially a government function with more expense, more legal ambiguity, and a doubtful impact on public confidence that their privacy is being protected."

Ed Black, president of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, said it was good as far it went, but that was not far enough.

“The president’s speech was empathetic, balanced and thoughtful, but insufficient to meet the real needs of our globally connected world and a free Internet," who was at the Justice Department to hear the speech in person, according to CCIA.“It's clear the president recognizes the potential for government overreach on surveillance and he is trying to provide

more oversight and transparency about data collection. But we’re disappointed he did not completely halt the collection and analysis of bulk metadata. We would have liked him to have followed the lead of his appointed review group and call for greater examination of the NSA’s subversion of encryption standards, and for changes to the ways in which the NSA can access Americans’ content without a warrant," said Black.

The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation was on the same page. Saying the reforms included some positive steps and agreeing with the president that the government should be able to look at metadata, at least for now, ITIF senior analyst Daniel Castro said the reforms "do not go far enough to establish the types of structural reforms needed to protect

the economic interests of the United States. Specifically, the President should clearly and unequivocally state that the policy of the U.S. government is to strengthen, not weaken, cyber security and renounce the practice of having intelligence agencies work to introduce backdoors and other vulnerabilities into commercial products. In addition, the President should work with other countries to establish common rules on when intelligence communities can access foreign data so as to promote zones of free trade in digital goods and services."

Access, Demand Progress, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight for the Future, Free Press and ThoughtWorks, which have launched a protest of NSA data collection, were skeptical about the continued bulk data collection.

“In a speech about reform, the President announced a policy of preservation.  What it comes down to is this: The President wants data about every single American to be collected and retained," said David Segal, executive director of Demand Progress, in a statement. "He wants to normalize practices that sparked mass outrage just last summer.  We do not.  That's why we'll push forward with The Day We Fight Back on February 11th, and push for passage of the USA Freedom Act” said

Not surprisingly, Attorney General Eric Holder, also in the audience, thought the proposals were just right. “The Attorney General believes that the President’s reforms will further ensure that the proper balance is struck between the need to keep the nation safe and the need to safeguard our civil liberties," said DOJ spokesman Brian Fallon. "In the weeks ahead, the Justice Department will work closely with the intelligence community and other key administration officials to implement the President’s reforms.”

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.