Yesterday’s report from President Obama’s appointed review panel is adding some major pressure for the administration to make real reforms to the NSA, and that pressure may extend well beyond the recommendations themselves.
That’s because while the panel made calls for a lot of major changes, and did so in a pretty vague way, the most damaging conclusion therein is buried in a footnote: that the massive telephone metadata program has been of little to no practical use, and that everything the NSA got from it could’ve also been readily gotten through other, more traditional efforts.
That followed almost immediately on the heels of a ruling by Judge Leon, who called the program almost certainly unconstitutional, adding “I have significant doubts about the efficacy of the metadata collection program as a means of conducting time-sensitive investigations in cases involving imminent threats of terrorism. The government does not cite a single instance in which analysis of the NSA’s bulk metadata collection actually stopped an imminent attack, or otherwise aided the Government in achieving any objective that was time-sensitive in nature.”
Leon’s doubts were answered pretty effectively by the panel’s report, and the answer is that the NSA didn’t cite a single instance of its effectiveness because there simply wasn’t one. That’s bad news for an administration that wants to keep the program going more or less as designed.
While the recommendation to move the metadata database to some third party was really a fairly minor reform, the admission that the whole intrusive program hasn’t been of any real benefit is sure to boost more ambitious calls to scrap it outright.
The review panel’s calls for minor reforms are already more than President Obama is likely to want to make, but as the surveillance scandal continues to grow, his ability to put off calls for reform with promises of “transparency” is going to be tested.