President Barack Obama on Friday gave a speech [Transcript, text] proposing a four-step reform to increase the credibility and legitimacy of the National Security Agency (NSA) and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) [official websites]. The first step will reform Section 215 [ACLU backgrounder] of the Patriot Act [text, PDF; JURIST news archive], which involves the collection of telephone records, giving the public "additional confidence that there are additional safeguards against abuse." The next step will allow adversary to challenge the government's position in judicial review process of the FISC balancing security and privacy concerns. Third, President Obama stated that he directed the intelligence community to make public as many documents as possible and to "release information that details its mission, authorities and oversight." Lastly, a group of outside experts will be formed that will review the current intelligence and communications technologies. On the same day, the White House [official website] released a white paper [text, PDF] explaining the legal rationale behind Section 215. The NSA also released a 7-page paper [text, PDF] outlining its own legal foundations.
Revelations surrounding US government surveillance programs [JURIST backgrounder] have sparked debate and controversy since the leak of confidential documents in June by Edward Snowden [JURIST news archive]. In July US lawmaker introduced a bill [JURIST report] to address popular concerns about personal privacy and the FISC mandating the court to be presided over by judges that are nominated by the president and confirmed by Congress. During the same month, the FISC permitted Yahoo to declassify a redacted 2008 order [JURIST report] that the company comply with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) [JURIST feature] in data collection. Civil liberties groups, Google and Microsoft [JURIST reports] have directly challenged the court to declassify data collected under its orders. Other parties filed motions in federal court and the Supreme Court [JURIST reports] challenging the NSA surveillance program that benefited from the FISC's oversight.