“We have got to win back the trust not just of governments, but, more importantly, of ordinary citizens,” President Obama said recently at a press conference at the Hague, “And that’s not going to happen overnight, because there’s a tendency to be skeptical of government and to be skeptical of the US intelligence services.”
Nearly a year after Edward Snowden’s revelations, President Obama announced last Tuesday that his administration will be pushing legislation to curb the National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk collection of phone records. The proposed law would mark a turning point in mass surveillance but is still a far cry from a victory for privacy rights.
The proposed legislation would not end the federal government’s collection of metadata in its entirety; the government could still access such information with approval by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). The proposal would obligate phone companies to provide records on any new calls made or received after a court order has been granted. Such metadata could be retained for a time span of 18 months.
Although the White House’s proposed legislations would make significant changes to the NSA’s current program, it does not fully address other major implications of government mass surveillance. There are still many questions left unanswered.
For instance, if the US government were to request a FISC warrant, what basic standards need to be met to obtain access? What happens if Congress does not pass the legislation or makes significant changes? President Obama can stop the bulk collection of metadata on his own, so why does he feel the need to ask Congress?
If the President truly seeks to win back the public’s trust and protect the rights of US citizens, he wouldn’t have to ask Congress to end metadata collection. His reluctance to issue such an executive order speaks volume about his character.