Obama calls on NSA to curb spy tactics

Friendly foreign governments were tapped, India potentially among them.

By Deepak Chitnis

WASHINGTON, DC: During a speech yesterday at the Department of Justice, President Barack Obama announced that his administration would be implementing steps to curb the amount of surveillance being conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA), both domestically and abroad.

It’s been a rough year for the NSA, the premiere intelligence agency of the US. Ever since former contractor Edward Snowden exposed the breadth of the agency’s spy tactics and swiftly defected for safer pastures, more and more discoveries have exposed the depths to which the NSA – and, by extension, the US federal government as a whole – have engaged in spying on both US citizens and foreign outposts across the globe.

Now, Obama is calling for those tactics to be severely curbed, saying that the NSA would no longer be able to store data on US citizens’ phone usage, would have to request special permission before gathering or accessing intelligence related to terror or espionage targets in certain countries abroad, and that spying on international leaders would be heavily restricted.

During his speech, Obama said that the US is in possession of “unique” capabilities when it comes to covert espionage, and therefore “[it]places a special obligation on us to ask tough questions about what we should do.”

Obama’s move to appeal to foreign leaders also happens to come at a time when relations between the US and India are the most strained they’ve been in some ten years. Snowden had claimed that the US was surreptitiously monitoring or tapping into Indian offices, either in New Delhi or here in the States, so Obama’s move could be seen as a way of making peace with countries he’s irritated in recent months.

It is known that the NSA was able to access around 200 million text messages from around the world every single day, storing them in a large database to be used at their discretion, whenever they wanted. Additionally, the agency was able to listen in on phone calls, look into internet records, and engage in other invasive techniques, even if there was no probable cause to initiate such things.

Obama is in face-saving mode; in addition to the NSA scandals that rocked Washington last year, the President was also faced with the embarrassing launch of his Affordable Health Care Act in October, and was unable to get his long-championed comprehensive immigration reform legislation passed through the GOP-controlled House of Representatives. The thinking is that Obama is hoping to curry favor ahead of the critical 2014 midterm elections.

Curbing the powers of the NSA – which could be called Big Brother, for all intents and purposes – is a sound move in the right direction. The NSA’s data collection program is up for re-authorization on March 28, by which date Obama said he would like to have a transfer point set up for the NSA’s data to be moved to. He did not specify or outline a plan of his own, saying he would call on the attorney general and key heads in the intelligence sector to aid him on drafting a viable solution.

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