Washington, DC (January 17, 2014) — Today, President Obama made a long-awaited speech on surveillance reform proposals. Unfortunately, the President chose to defer to Congress on key components of the most significant known program in need of reform—the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone metadata. Nothing the President said today indicated that the wholesale collection of this information is to be brought to an end.
In response to the President’s remarks, NACDL Executive Director Norman Reimer said: "The President has opted for smaller changes rather than a complete overhaul of the program. It is time for the President to start protecting the people’s rights. While it is a step in the right direction to recommend ending direct government collection of this metadata and to provide back-end protections on searching the information, the President should have supported ending the program altogether."
While the President did promise to extend greater privacy protections to non-US persons and require the NSA to seek approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) prior to querying the metadata, he failed to uphold the fundamental protection against unwarranted and unreasonable government intrusion—the Fourth Amendment. Privacy and security are not mutually exclusive. As his own task force reported late last year, the telephony metadata program under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act "is not essential to preventing attacks," and the information obtained pursuant to that program "could readily [be] obtained in a timely manner using conventional" individualized and particularized court orders. On balance, this program should be ended as it greatly infringes upon the privacy and First Amendment interests of Americans and offers very little security value.
As the nation now looks to Congress for much needed reform, NACDL supports the bipartisan USA FREEDOM Act, which would end the 215 program. NACDL urges Members of Congress to enact this badly needed legislation in an effort to curb further government overreach. Piecemeal reforms that only seek to place a Band-Aid on the problems while codifying the programs as they currently exist, like those proposed by leaders of the Intelligence Committees, will only further infringe fundamental constitutional rights.
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The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal justice system.