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White House panel recommends new,strict limits on NSA spying

The report was praised by privacy advocates in Congress and civil-liberties groups.

Washington | Published: December 20, 2013 5:16:47 am

David E Sanger & Charlie Savage

A panel of outside advisers urged President Obama Wednesday to impose major oversight and some restrictions on the National Security Agency,arguing that in the past dozen years its powers had been enhanced at the expense of personal privacy.

The panel recommended changes in the way the agency collects the telephone data of Americans,spies on foreign leaders and prepares for cyberattacks abroad.

But the most significant recommendation of the panel of five intelligence and legal experts was Obama restructure a programme in which the NSA systematically collects logs of all American phone calls — so-called metadata — and a small group of agency officials have power to authorize the search of an individual’s telephone contacts. Instead,the panel said,the data should remain in the hands of telecommunications companies or a private consortium,and a court order should be necessary each time analysts want to access information of any individual “for queries and data mining”.

The experts briefed Obama on Wednesday on their 46 recommendations,and a senior administration official said Obama was “open to many” of the changes,though he has already rejected one that called for separate leaders for the NSA and its Pentagon cousin,the US Cyber Command.

If Obama adopts the majority of the recommendations,it would mark the first major restrictions on the unilateral powers that the NSA has acquired since the September 11 terrorist attacks. They would require far more specific approvals from the courts,far more oversight from the Congress and specific presidential approval for spying on national leaders,especially allies.

The agency would also have to give up one of its most potent weapons in cyberconflicts: ability to insert “back doors” in American hardware or software,a secret way into them to manipulate computers,or to purchase previously unknown flaws in software that it can use to conduct cyberattacks.

“We have identified a series of reforms that are designed to safeguard the privacy and dignity of American citizens,and to promote public trust,while also allowing the intelligence community to do what must be done to respond to genuine threats,” says the report,which Obama commissioned in August in response to the mounting furore over revelations by Edward J Snowden,a former NSA contractor,of the agency’s surveillance practices.

The report was praised by privacy advocates in Congress and civil-liberties groups.

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