WASHINGTON — The Obama administration announced on Friday it will create a new website to address concerns over the transparency of controversial dragnet surveillance programs.
“We also will be creating a website next week that is going to serve as the hub for further transparency, so this can be a home for citizens who are interested in learning more about our activities and declassifying efforts in responding to queries that people have about these programs,” said a senior administration official on a phone call with reporters ahead of a scheduled President Obama press conference.
The official also said that “in line with the President’s direction, the Department of Justice is going to be releasing the legal rationale for the government’s collection activities under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.” Section 215 of the Patriot Act provides the legal basis for some of the National Security Agency surveillance practices that have become a subject of national contention — and a locus for criticism of the Obama administration’s culture of secrecy — in the wake of revelations leaked by Edward Snowden to The Guardian.
Obama’s opening remarks at the press conference on Friday will focus on “the ongoing national debate and dialogue that he has encouraged as it relates to our intelligence community and, in particular, our surveillance programs, and some of the steps we have been taking as a government to respond to the President’s interest in pursuing greater transparency and pursuing necessary reforms to help build public confidence in our surveillance programs and our intelligence community, broadly,” a senior administration official said.
This will include addressing concerns about the secret nature of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has been accused of being little more than a rubber stamp for the programs.
“What we will be looking at with Congress is how do we ensure that in those programmatic surveillance efforts, the government’s position before the court can be challenged by an adversary so that in addition to having a voice on behalf of our efforts to pursue this type of program, there’s also a voice that is raising civil liberties concerns in that process,” one of the officials said. “So the introduction of that type of adversarial process in terms of FISC will be a subject of consultation with Congress going forward.”
A senior administration official with the NSA also announced a new paper “that lays out in some greater detail the authorities, controls, means and methods that are employed by the National Security Agency.”
The paper, the official said, will include an explanation of the NSA’s purpose and a description of its methods, the official said, and “is relatively short. It’s somewhere between six or seven pages, depending upon the font, the margins that you might choose.”
The paper “may involve information that has not been released by Mr. Snowden,” the official said.
In the opening remarks to his press conference, Obama promised that the NSA would hire a full time privacy and civil liberties officer.
He also promised the addition of an “adversary” to argue the civil liberties position in front of the FISC.
If the court “only hears one side of the story, it may tilt it too far in favor of security and may not pay enough attention to liberty,” Obama said.