The National Security Agency and its allies are making a final public push to retain as much of their controversial mass surveillance powers as they can, before President Barack Obama’s forthcoming announcement about the future scope of US surveillance.
Security officials concede a need for greater transparency and for adjustments to broad domestic intelligence collection, but argue that limiting the scope of such collection would put the country at greater risk of terrorist attacks.
In a lengthy interview that aired on Friday on National Public Radio (NPR), the NSA’s top civilian official, the outgoing deputy director John C Inglis, said that the agency would cautiously welcome a public advocate to argue for privacy interests before the secret court which oversees surveillance. Such a measure is being promoted by some of the agency’s strongest legislative critics.
Inglis also suggested that the so-called Fisa court have “somebody who would assist them with matters of interpreting technology”, which also has the potential to recast the court’s relationship with the NSA.
Currently, the judges on the panel rely entirely on the NSA to explain how the agency’s complex technological systems work, an institutional disadvantage that judges have highlighted in secret rulings bemoaning “systemic” misrepresentations by the powerful surveillance agency.
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