Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Balancing security and privacy


OUR OPINION: President should embrace recommendations to modify NSA’s programs

A tough and thorough report by an independent panel of experts last week should be all the justification that President Obama needs to make critical changes in the National Security Agency’s spy programs to protect Americans’ privacy without undermining national security.

Until now, President Obama has tried to deflect criticism of the NSA secret surveillance projects that a federal judge last week labeled “nearly Orwellian.” The president has offered soothing assurances that he understands why the public is worried, but he has never committed to undertake the changes necessary to ensure a minimum level of privacy. It’s time to stop talking and start acting.

The report by a five-member panel of intelligence and legal experts appointed by the president himself stopped short of recommending the dismantling of NSA programs designed to prevent acts of terrorism. Nor should they have. The threat of terrorism on American soil remains very real.

But does that mean that the public has to surrender a reasonable expectation of privacy in communications, either by phone or in cyberspace? The NSA’s excesses, responding to orders from two administrations and from Congress, went far beyond what is necessary to maintain a proper balance between security and the right to be free of a smothering level of surveillance.

The panel included Michael J. Morell, a former No. 2 official at the CIA, and Richard A. Clarke, a former high-ranking security expert at the White House under both Democratic and Republican presidents. Both former insiders, along with the others, are well aware of the level of intelligence needed to keep America safe.

Yet, to their credit, members of the panel made 46 distinct recommendations that would sharply curb data mining and other forms of intrusion into private communications. These go well beyond the cosmetic changes agreed to by some on Capitol Hill and inside the government.

Among the most important is the recommendation that the data gleaned from systematically collecting the logs of every American’s phone calls — so-called metadata — should be held in private hands (phone companies or some sort of private consortium) and not by the government itself. The NSA would have to get a judge’s order to perform “link analysis” on any stored record.

Also significant: A recommendation that the government stop trying to weaken encryption standards by Internet service providers and others so that it can easily crack their systems to gather data. And the panel also wants to reform the super-secret surveillance court so that it could be transformed into a true adversarial system to allow a “public-interest advocate” to represent the side of privacy and civil liberties whenever those interests are at stake.

These are all sound recommendations, especially in view of a ruling by U.S. District Judge Richard Leon last week that “the government does not cite a single case in which analysis of the NSA’s bulk metadata collection actually stopped an imminent terrorist attack.” He called part of the surveillance program unconstitutional, a word that should sting the former constitutional law professor who occupies the Oval Office.

The president is expected to announce next month what he intends do about the secrecy programs. He should embrace those changes that provide greater accountability and enhance the civil liberties of Americans. If there are recommendations he cannot accept, he must make a persuasive case to the public as to why.

Read more Editorials stories from the Miami Herald

Annette Taddeo-Goldstein, Charlie Crist’s running mate, signs a petition in Clearwater to let undocumented immigrants get driver’s licenses.

    Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

    The drive for common sense

    OUR OPINION: Grant undocumented immigrants driver’s licenses

  • Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

    Filling the bench

    OUR OPINION: The selection of judges a problem in the Florida gubernatorial race

  • Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

    Black eye for the region

    OUR OPINION: Venezuela does not deserve support for Security Council seat

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category