Obama Seeks to Appease Security and Intelligence Community
The changes that President Obama proposed today are akin to a renovation project, not an overhaul. To further the analogy, he focused on the kitchen, not the less visible basement den. Overall, few of the recommendations from the Presidential Committee tasked with reviewing intelligence collection activities were adopted and those that were, ended up being watered down.
For example, rather than adding a permanent public advocate to the FISA court, he instead noted that 'significant cases' before the FISA court would also go to an independent panel for review. Unfortunately, it was loose restrictions, open to broad interpretation, that led to the breadth of the current intelligence gathering practices in the first place. Rather than addressing all of the concerns raised by the Presidential Committee, Obama chose to focus on the more controversial components of the program, such as the collection of telephone metadata and spying on foreign leaders.
While the President suggested that foreign leaders will no longer be targeted, so long as there is not 'a compelling national security purpose' to do so, telephone metadata collection will continue. He proposed that metadata will be stored by a third party and require court approval for access, yet it remains to be determined, which entity will be responsible for the storage and phone companies have already pushed back on being active participants in such a process.
Above all others, the telephone metadata collection program drew the most ire from the American public, so the President is clearly aiming to get the most bang for his buck with this speech, without alienating the Intelligence community. Whether or not the changes will appease the American public will have a lot to do with how these changes are actually implemented, most of which has yet to be defined.
Rather than making definitive decisions on most proposals, Obama instead has passed the buck to Congress, the Justice Department and the Intelligence community to determine how the proposals will be delivered. The questions going forward will be - who is going to be entrusted with the data?
What level of oversight will occur over the process and will requests for data from the NSA be met with true scrutiny or a rubber stamp? This all may however be a moot point as the courts will no doubt deliver further rulings on current and future intelligence gathering programs, now that the public is demanding additional transparency.