Obama announces he will reform the NSA, but do Americans trust him?

BY MICHAEL RICONDA

220px-President_Barack_ObamaResponding to bipartisan calls for reform and concern from Americans, President Obama announced on January 17 that he would pursue reforms for the National Security Agency.

Obama promised to set limits on the retention and collection of data from foreign nationals in friendly nations, appoint senior officials to oversee, coordinate and implement security safeguards and require court approval for data inquiries.

Obama also assigned the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to transfer control of data away from the NSA and toward a private entity, but stopped short of ending the highly controversial warrantless metadata collection program, requesting that Americans trust the intentions of intelligence gatherers.

“I’ve indicated, the United States has unique responsibilities when it comes to intelligence collection,” Obama said. “Our capabilities help protect not only our nation but our friends and our allies as well, but our efforts will only be effective if ordinary citizens in other countries have confidence that the United States respects their privacy too.”

The focus on expanding ooversight rather than scaling back data collection might be why only a slim minority of Americans who know the plan believe it to be adequate. A Pew Research Poll released after the speech surveyed 1,504 Americans, asking if they had heard about the proposal and what its effects would be. Out of the 49 percent who knew of the reforms, only 21 percent believed it would increase protections on privacy, while 73 percent disagreed.

A similarly low number was recorded regarding perceptions of the program’s effectiveness in fighting terrorism. Thirteen percent believed the reforms would make fighting terrorism more difficult, while 79 percent believed it would not.

Interestingly, the divide in the president’s party has only deepened with time, and the announcement did little to change this. Forty eight percent of Democrats disapprove of the NSA’s data collection program, while only 46 approve, representing a 12 percent drop in approval from June 2013.

Though Obama announced a willingness to work with private entities, the administration also faces an uphill battle with them. Though the reforms rely on cooperation with telecommunication companies, thes companies often lack the data-sifting capabilities of the NSA and seem reluctant to house data over which the government exercises a great measure of control.

No plan has been set in place and nobody has been chosen to host the NSA’s database yet, though representatives with Attorney General Eric Holder have announced they are in talks with policy experts on how to restructure the program according to Obama’s recommendations.