Daily Meme: Obama Puts the NSA in Time-Out

  • After months and months of revelations spurred by Edward Snowden's files from the National Security Agency—including one yesterday about the 200 million text messages that the NSA collects every day—Obama took the podium today to unveil a massive rework of our country's surveillance systems. 
  • As of last night, the president was still unsure of how big the changes his administration is making would be. 
  • The most important bits of the speech? As The New York Times sums up, "Mr. Obama said he would end the vast collection of phone data as it exists today. He will also restrict the ability of the National Security Agency to throw a net well beyond the data of an individual target and collect unlimited numbers. And the president said he would sharply restrict eavesdropping on the leaders of dozens of foreign allies, the disclosure of which ignited a diplomatic firestorm with friendly countries like Germany."
  • Or, as Gawker condensed the speech, "NSA Surveillance Is Awesome and Also Awful and Um... Yeah. USA!"
  • In his speech, Obama said, "One thing I’m certain of: this debate will make us stronger. And I also know that in this time of change, the United States of America will have to lead. It may seem sometimes that America is being held to a different standard, and the readiness of some to assume the worst motives by our government can be frustrating. No one expects China to have an open debate about their surveillance programs, or Russia to take the privacy concerns of citizens into account. But let us remember that we are held to a different standard precisely because we have been at the forefront in defending personal privacy and human dignity."
  • Bloomberg adds, "Obama said electronic snooping will be subject to greater judicial review and that companies and the government will provide more disclosure about what data are gathered. He gave his attorney general and the NSA 60 days to develop a plan for storing bulk telephone records outside of government spy agencies."
  • It wasn't all just heaping restrictions on the NSA, though. Shane Harris tweeted, "This is the most fulsome defense of the NSA and its personnel that Obama has given in public since the Snowden leaks began."
  • Obama did not have much to say about Snowden, but Pentagon officials and NSA analysts do. “'I would love to put a bullet in his head,' one Pentagon official, a former special forces officer, said bluntly. 'I do not take pleasure in taking another human beings life, having to do it in uniform, but he is single-handedly the greatest traitor in American history.'"
  • To which Ed Kilgore responds, "Even discounting the tendency of intelligence types to speak (anonymously, at least) as though they are characters on Homeland or in a Bond movie, these are sentiments that indicate a hostility to the rule of law that, ironically, reinforces Snowden’s credibility."
  • So, what did the Internet have to say about all these developments? Well, one thing's for sure, if the NSA data collection existed during the American Revolution, Paul Revere might not have fared so well
  • Conor Friedersdorf writes that Congress's need for a translator of NSA policies means that the NSA needs to change their system of keeping the legislative branch in the loop ... especially since they will need to be at the forefront of keeping the agency in check.
  • John Cassidy responds, "let’s not hear any more about how we can trust him to protect our privacy."
  • National Review is skeptical about Obama being surprised about the Edward Snowden revelations.
  • Jeffrey Rosen responds, "Obama’s openness to ending the mass collection of telephone data deserves cautious praise. Now he has to follow through."
  • Greg Sargent's take: "there probably isn’t any solution to the core question over bulk collection that can make both sides happy. For Obama, the debate should be about how to collect this metadata in a way that maximizes public confidence that privacy rights are protected. For civil libertarians, the debate should be over whether to collect that metadata at all — the bulk collection itself is an abuse, one that is not central to keeping the nation safe, despite Obama’s protestation otherwise. Indeed, bulk collection, in this telling, is itself a continued threat to people’s security."
  • Glen Greenwald called the speech "basically a PR gesture, a way to calm the public and to make them think there’s reform when in reality there really won’t be."

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