Geof Stone, "The President and the NSA"

The President and the NSA

In his January 17 speech on the NSA, President Obama observed that, "In our rush to respond to a very real and novel set of threats" after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, "the risk of government overreach -- the possibility" that we might inadvertently "lose some of our core liberties in pursuit of security -- became more pronounced." He explained that now that we are more than a decade past that event, it is time for the nation to review the programs that were adopted in the wake of those attacks and "to make some important decisions about how to protect ourselves ... while upholding the civil liberties and privacy protections that our ideals -- and our Constitution -- require."

"This effort," the president cautioned, "will not be completed overnight," but he emphasized that it is important for "the American people to know that the work has begun." To that end, he announced "a series of concrete and substantial reforms" that he intended either to adopt himself under his authority as president or, where appropriate, to call upon Congress to enact through legislation.

How good a beginning has he made? I am in a reasonably good position to weigh in on that question, because I had the privilege of serving as one of the five members of the Review Group that President Obama appointed in August to advise him on these issues. The Review included individuals with a wide-range of divergent experiences, values, and expertise. It included, for example, both a card-carrying member of the ACLU (myself) and a former Deputy and Acting Director of the CIA (Michael Morell). After months of grueling work, the Review Group produced a 300-page report ("Liberty and Security in a Changing World") that included 46 unanimous recommendations. Those recommendations -- or at least some of the most important of them -- provided the foundation for the president's address.

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