Well here’s a surprise. According to a report in the New York Times, it seems that President Obama is none to happy about the NSA’s bulk collection of US citizen’s phone records, and is drawing up a legislative proposal that will “drastically overhaul” the program. Whether or not Obama’s apparent disgust at the NSA’s actions is genuine, the proposal will see this data remaining in phone companies’ hands, and only given to the spooks if they can provide evidence that a specific call has links to terrorism.
This marks a radical departure from the way things are done now. At present, the NSA scoops up metadata on just about every phone call that’s ever made, and is allowed to retain this data for up to five years. According to the NTY, Obama is prepared to renew this program for one more 90-day cycle before the changes come in. The changes will mean that the NSA is no longer able to collect phone call metadata at all – instead it will be forced to apply for a FISA court order every time it wants to obatain data from a specific phone number, and this will be granted only if a judge agrees there’s evidence to link that caller to terrorism.
Of course, we don’t know how strict (or lax) these judges will be when considering the evidence, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. Obama’s proposal comes after the President vowed to “end the [bulk phone record collection] program as it currently exists” during a speech last January. At the time, Obama told the NSA to come up with a new scheme by March 28 that would put an end to its data fest whilst still allowing it to carry out vital intelligence work.
In his speech, Obama made three key recommendations – that phone call metadata be taken out of the NSA’s hands; that the NSA stop collecting caller’s personal information; and that all data which is collected is relevant to ongoing investigations.
We should bear in mind that this proposal only covers the collection of call data. It does nothing to affect the numerous other spy programs being run by the NSA, such as its massive spy malware operations, its tendency to tap undersea cables, or its ongoing efforts at hacking into the private networks of firms like Yahoo and Google.
China gets a taste of its own medicine
In other news related to the NSA’s mass surveillance, China has reacted angrily to reports that the agency is actively spying on its telecoms firm Huawei. China says that this is somewhat hypocritical considering that the USA has time and again accused Huawei of doing exactly the same thing for the Chinese government, and in all probability that’s why it’s being targeted – so the NSA can find out if it’s true.
However, Hong Lei, a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry, said that he was “extremely concerned” about the revelations, reports Reuters:
“Recently, the international media has put out a lot of reports about the eavesdropping, surveillance and stealing of secrets by the United States of other countries, including China. China has already lodged many complaints with the United States about this. We demand that the United States makes a clear explanation and stop such acts.”
The claims were reported by both Der Spiegal and the New York Times last weekend, citing fresh leaks from Edward Snowden. The reports alleged that the NSA runs an operation codenamed “Shotgiant” that’s intent on hacking Huawei’s networks and installing a ‘back doors’ for its spies to use. According to the leaked documents, the whole point of the exercise is to determine if Huawei was indeed spying on foreign companies, and if so, which ones are being targeted.