Massachusetts officials agree with the reforms U.S. President Barack Obama announced on Friday, which would end the National Security Agency’s authoritative hold over databases of telephone records held by millions of Americans, as an improvement but only one of many that are needed.
While Obama’s reform plans will end the NSA’s warrantless telephone record monitoring, a long-held ability afforded under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, it still does not cover the swaths of user data available from data giants such as Google and Facebook.
While lawmakers in Boston were pleased by the changes, they were concerned the government would run into many logistical problems in holding the NSA judicially accountable for their searches, especially with leaks from people such as Edward Snowden alleging that the NSA is able to rifle through individual web histories and browsing habits.
“America must always find a balance between security and liberty, but the trove of information from NSA ‘data-tapping’ programs, most of it on innocent Americans, is ripe for future abuse,” said Sen. Edward Markey in the Friday news release.
While Markey was pleased that Obama was taking initial steps to curtail government surveillance programs, he said more needed to be done to ensure that the privacy of U.S. citizens remains fundamental right.
Kade Crockford, director of the technology for liberty program at the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, was more critical of Obama’s NSA reform plans.
“The President’s proposals do not go nearly far enough,” she said. “They just barely scratch the surface of the problems that we’ve learned exist in the intelligence agencies at the highest levels of government in this country.”
While Obama is ending the NSA’s hold over the millions of phone records , he failed to specify who would have ownership over the phone records, meaning it could go back to telecommunications companies or a third party, Crockford said.
“Giving that data to another third party would endanger our privacy rights even more than they’re doing now,” she said. “Not only is it blatantly unconstitutional, [but it’s] a danger to everyone’s privacy and civil liberties.”
Similarly, Sen. Markey voiced concern with the government overstepping its bounds with vast surveillance sweeps.
“We cannot invade the privacy of the innocent as we look for the guilty,” he said. “As Americans increasingly connect with one another through a multitude of technologies and devices and services, the government should not be siphoning up more information about the innocent.”
Several residents said although they see the value in surveillance to prevent terrorism and other crimes, it crosses a line when it invades the personal lives of innocent people.
“I’m all for trying to protect people, especially innocent people, but only if there’s legitimate concern that an individual or a group of people pose a serious threat,” Drew Stevens, of Boston, said. “But that is a very specific set of circumstances. It sounds like a lot of the issues that are happening go well beyond that and they’re a lot more intrusive and probably cavalier with a lot of things that they’ve done or [have] been doing.”
Thomas Estrada, of the North End, said Obama was only acknowledging one part of the NSA issue.
“[Obama] is doing a halfway decent job of at least addressing it,” he said. “On that same note, something has to be done in the fact that they can’t just go into everyone’s house and spy on them.”