Critics Ready "Failing" Grade for Obama's NSA Reforms

Ahead of a speech announcing his ideas for reforming the National Security Agency and its mass surveillance programs exposed over the last eight months, worries are pitched that President Obama will not go nearly far enough in his proposals to rein in the agency.

Based on a series of leaked “insider” reports on the contours of Obama’s reform package, the ACLU issued a warning to the White House that what Obama announces publicly during his speech on Friday could well determine his entire legacy when it comes to civil liberties.

“If the speech is anything like what is being reported,” said the group’s executive director Anthony D. Romero, “the president will go down in history for having retained and defended George W. Bush’s surveillance programs rather than reformed them.”

According to Foreign Policy:

If that’s true, say his critics, it’s wholly unacceptable.

“Keeping the storage of all Americans’ data in government hands and asking ‘lawmakers to weigh in,’ as reported,” said Romero, “is passing the buck – when the buck should stop with the president. If Congress fails to act on this matter, as it has on other critical policy issues, President Obama will effectively be handing off a treasure trove of all our private data to succeeding presidents – whether it is Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, or Hillary Clinton.”

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Obama’s end-of-week speech will come a day after new polling released on Thursday shows that a strong majority of Americans want to see the surveillance powers of the NSA curtailed even as they show lost confidence in the Obama administration, or the government in general, of enacting the necessary fixes. As the Guardian reports:

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As part of their effort to hold Obama accountable and articulate their critique of NSA overreach, the online privacy and digital rights groups Electronic Frontier Foundation has created a “NSA Reform Scorecard” that presents a list of “common-sense fixes that the President could—and should—announce” during Friday’s briefing.

According to EFF’s Cindy Cohn and Rainey Reitman, many of the measures contained in the ‘scorecard’ are similar to those “proposed by the president’s own Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, which produced a report with 46 recommendations for Obama in December.

Though Cohn and Reitman acknowledge the list is not comprehensive, they contend it does address “the central problems with NSA surveillance” and say taking these steps would “go a long way toward restoring America’s trust in its government and resolving some of the most egregious civil liberties abuses of the NSA.”

Like the ACLU, however, EFF’s stated worry is that instead of ending the abusive spy tactics of the NSA, “Obama could just make pronouncements calling for more transparency or additional layers of bureaucratic oversight. Basically, he could duck the most important thing he could do to show leadership: rein in government surveillance.”

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