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Obama panel recommends an end to the NSA's systematic cell phone data collection

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On Wednesday, the Obama Administration released a 308-page document from a panel of presidential advisers who reviewed the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance practices. The group of five intelligence and legal experts involved urged (via the New York Times and the actual document) President Barack Obama to end the government’s systematic collection of logs of all Americans’ phone calls.

The group also strongly recommended that any operation involving the monitoring of foreign leaders -- remember the furball around Angela Merkel -- be highly vetted, including weighing the potential disaster if the operation went public.

In addition, the panel added, the decision to monitor such communications needs to be made not by the intelligence community, as has been done, but instead by the president and his advisers. Leaders of allied nations or those with whom the U.S. shares a "cooperative relationship" should be given “a high degree of respect and deference,” the panel said, as well.

In other words, were this recommendation in place, Merkel would probably not have been monitored.

In total, the panel made 46 recommendations, including the above but also including moving the NSA’s information assurance directorate (its computer defense division) outside of the agency and under the DOD’s cyber policy office.

Another recommendation was a halt to the NSA's "war on encryption," and make clear that “it will not in any way subvert, undermine, weaken or make vulnerable generally available commercial encryption.”

The panel also said that the U.S. should stop secretly finding and collecting flaws in common computer software and using them for cyberattacks. That practice, the panel said, undermines confidence in American products. Such attacks on flaws, whether so-called "zero day" flaws or not, were front-and-center in the cyberattacks that the United States and Israel used to slow Iran's nuclear program.

Don't think that the panel completely eviscerated the NSA, though. Another recommendation was that the U.S. should study feasibility of creating methods and / or software that would allow the NSA to conduct targeted data acquisition instead of bulk information collection.

Richard Clarke, one of the advisers on the panel, said

What we’re saying is just because we can doesn’t mean we should.

At the same time, Michael Morell, former Deputy Director of the CIA and another member of the panel, said

We are not in any way recommending the disarming of the intelligence community.

The panel was created by President Obama after the revelations of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked many secret documents to the media.


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