The Obama administration is planning to issue a series of progress updates about its efforts over the past year to reform the National Security Agency’s mass-surveillance authority, National Journal has learned.
An announcement is expected to come by the end of the month, a White House spokesman said, and will include details about changes to the NSA’s bulk collection of domestic phone records, one of the most controversial programs revealed by Edward Snowden 18 months ago. Some of that information was released Thursday in a report by the National Research Council, which concluded the use of software alone cannot entirely replace bulk surveillance.
Deputy press secretary Shawn Turner described the information as a report that will explain progress made on intelligence reforms called for by President Obama almost exactly a year ago when his administration was besieged by a seemingly endless torrent of Snowden-fueled revelations.
The White House would not comment more specifically on what updates would be included in the report, which it said is not likely to be mentioned in Obama’s State of the Union address next week.
“I guarantee you that there will be some things here that are not already out in the public,” Turner said. “What you’ll see is that the intelligence community has made significant progress toward our goal, toward the administration’s goal, of protecting civil liberties and privacy while making sure that the intelligence community has the tools it needs to safeguard our national security.”
A former White House official said the administration had originally intended to provide an NSA update to coincide with the anniversary of Obama’s Jan. 17 speech last year, in which he outlined a series of immediate administrative reforms and also called on Congress to send him a bill with more substantial changes to surveillance protocol.
But the process appears to have been delayed and the report will now come out at the end of January. Multiple privacy groups said they were contacted by the White House this week to review the updates but the meeting was cancelled.
Turner said the report will provide readers with enough information to make side-by-side comparisons of progress made under a presidential policy directive next to recommendations made by the Privacy Civil Liberties Oversight Board and a separate presidential review group. Both entities spent months reviewing the NSA’s bulk collection of U.S. call data and separately issued reports deeming the program largely ineffective.