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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    NSA still spying incognito

    Growing up with James Bond and Chuck Bartowski, I thought spying was pretty cool. The way I still like to think of it involves driving Aston Martins in exotic locales with beautiful women, on the way to fight a bad guy who lives in a volcano. This sort of spying that happens mostly in works of fiction — in large part because I hear volcano lairs aren’t practical — may be captivating, but spying that could potentially happen to us instantly becomes less glamorous.

    A big issue in the U.S. has been the National Security Agency’s surveillance of citizens’ phone and Internet use. President Barack Obama made a speech on Friday to address changes being made to intelligence-gathering practices. If Obama really wants to make a difference, give citizens the assurance that their civil liberties will not be violated and stop making people feel like criminals, he needs to step up his game and take more of his advisory panel’s recommendations.

    One of the most important advisements Obama mentioned instituting was requiring a court decision before NSA analysts are allowed to search metadata from telephones. This is a positive step because it limits investigation of call records to only those calls that the legal system recognizes as exhibiting probable cause.

    Even in what should be an improvement to our privacy, there is a loophole. The court system will get involved during some point of the phone record searching process; however, if there’s an emergency, its part can be delayed until after the search has been conducted. The definition of what constitutes an emergency was vague.

    This is basically how most of the recommendations were addressed, if they were addressed at all. Problems would be mentioned, with a hint of change implied, but most of the previously existing, troublesome infrastructure was kept intact.

    Another example of this can be seen in the handling of National Security Letters, a form of subpoena that the FBI uses that requires the recipient — usually a business — to turn over financial records or communication data while preventing recipients from talking about the investigation. It was recommended that, before being distributed, NSLs must first receive a judge’s approval, much like phone records searches. Instead of this provision passing, the NSLs only received a reduction in the gag order that is included. Now, the only difference is that there will be a point when recipients can talk about what the letter entailed.

    Individual citizens are not the only ones reeling from a lack of trust and an increased awareness of spying. Technology businesses in particular have not been pleased with the NSA’s collection of “zero day” flaws — the name given to any previously undiscovered backdoor into a computer system. These defects can be used to get into programs and mount an attack.

    Just as Superman would prefer no villain ever get a complete list of his weaknesses, especially ones he does not even know about, computer companies do not want their weaknesses to be exploited. Currently the NSA is outbidding companies for the rights to “zero days.” If they continue to delay the information, companies will be vulnerable to government cyberattacks.

    At no point did Obama address the collection of “zero days,” despite being recommended on the action list for much less frequent use as a show of good faith, both to the tech companies and those who could potentially be spied on.

    Ultimately, the announced decisions do not amount to much change. A balance between privacy and security may be achieved, but nothing is so dramatically different as to give us a complete sense of our trust back. There are ways to have both privacy and security. The panel of advisers came up with some of these ways, which protect our Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizures, while also allowing the government reasonable access to potentially dangerous materials.

    If anything’s really going to change, Obama needs to follow their advice.

    David W. Mariotte is a sophomore studying journalism and gender and women’s studies. Follow him @DW_davidwallace.

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