Editorial: Obama’s address on NSA leaves more work to be done

Editorial Board

How much trust can we really invest in our government? Whose interests are truly at heart? Since the initial Edward Snowden information leaks concerning the NSA, Americans’ trust toward the Obama administration has steadily fallen. It seems as if each new month brings more revelations about phone records, inter-and intra-national spying, as well as many other invasions of privacy.

In a somewhat belated attempt to sooth the American people, President Obama delivered a speech Jan. 17 on changes being made in the NSA’s surveillance program. Nearly a year after the initial controversy, our government is working on undoing their wrongs.

Wrapped in the well-prepared rhetoric of presidential speech, Obama’s announcements seemed reassuring, and in fact many of the adjustments to be made are worth celebrating. A comprehensive piece done by the Washington Post lists many of these accomplishments in “plain English,” and put simply, the NSA just will not be quite as invasive as it previously was.

It will now take more than simply “reasonable suspicion” for information to be pulled from the phone records. Requests will be evaluated by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on an individual basis. It is important to keep in mind, however, that this does not mean NSA will not have access to these records. This new obstacle is akin to needing a warrant to search a private dwelling: It is a hoop that can and will be jumped through.

In addition to this change, the records will not be able to be dug through so thoroughly, and in the next 60 days the Obama administration will be attempting to remove the record database from government control entirely. Though the information will still be accessible to a point, it will rest in the hands of a third party.

President Obama also calls for Congress to assemble “a panel of public advocates to represent consumers before the FISA court.” What this means is that those Congressmen and women, who are hired to represent us, need to in turn appoint secondary representatives. That Congress should have done their job representing the American people in the first place seems obvious.

All of these adjustments at least superficially remove the phone record database from our government. Obama and his administration are careful not to make this move sound apologetic. In his speech Obama stated, “No evidence of abuse has been found involving surveillance programs,” saying that the changes being made are pre-empting future issues. However, by retaining the ability to access these records in any way, the NSA simultaneously retains power.

As mentioned, the announced changes do not even scratch the surface of the NSA’s overly invasive actions. When it was leaked that NSA was collecting phone records by the millions from companies such as Verizon, America was shocked — to the point that it is easy to forget about NSA’s other actions. Obama’s proposed changes will not affect other forms of surveillance, nor do they call off the international prying that has angered our global neighbors.

Our government is amending those problems by which we Americans feel most uncomfortable with (our personal phone records being collected) but ignoring other, potentially bigger issues. As much as it is important for our nation to protect itself with information, it is more important to stand by the rights and dignities for which our country was created.

The Edward Snowden leaks led to the largest sense of betrayal that many of us have felt from our government during our lifetimes. It will take more than one president’s term and halfhearted reforms to regain the trust that has been lost. The changes being made, while good for the privacy of the American people, should be taken with a grain of salt. They should certainly not be regarded as an inclusive cure-all for our invasion of privacy; there is work yet to be done.