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PCLOB Reaffirms Need for Transparency

Statement of Patrice McDermott, Executive Director of on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board's report on the NSA's bul collection program:

Today’s report from the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board (PCLOB) strongly reaffirms the public’s right to know how the government views the limits and bounds of the law. The National Security Agency’s bulk collection of American’s telephone records far surpasses the straight-forward language of the PATRIOT Act. Secret interpretations of law, either by the courts or by the executive branch, have no place in a democratic society. The PCLOB recognized this and has made strong recommendations to counter this culture of secrecy. The recommendations are what we hoped to hear from President Obama, given his promise of open government. We urge the President begin a process that requires greater transparency for both current and future surveillance and intelligence community programs. Also, as President Obama placed the ball for many reforms clearly in Congress’ court, we call on Congress to heed the PCLOB’s advice, and include strong transparency in any legislation addressing domestic surveillance.

Commitment Analysis: Modernizing Records Management

The following was written by Anne Weismann of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and Amy Bennett of

The Administration's latest National Action Plan carries forward its commitment from the first Plan to improve the state of records management across the federal government.  At its core, the new Plan has two goals: (1) improving the management of email, and (2) making it easier for the public to find records.  However laudable these goals, the new commitment offers little promise of reaching them, as it requires agencies to take only small steps, and critically leaves too many things to agency discretion.

Commitment Analysis: Transforming the Security Classification System

The following is written by Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy. 

The commitments made in the second National Action Plan concerning security classification policy have several commendable features, as well as some questionable aspects.

House Passes Presidential and Federal Records Act Amendments of 2014

On January 14th, the House of Representatives unanimously passed the key amendments to the Presidential Records Act and Federal Records Act. The legislation (H.R.

Curbing National Security Excesses Requires Transparency

Statement of Patrice McDermott, Executive Director of on the President's Speech on NSA Reforms:

"During the speech, President Obama made an important admission regarding how the terrorist attacks of 9/11 drove the government to take some actions that are at odds with our core values. In particular, President Obama called out the use of enhanced interrogation techniques that many equate with torture. Rightly, President Obama points to actions by the courts and increased congressional oversight to right some of the government's excesses before he took office; what he fails to note though is how important his decision to declassify and release the memos written by the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) authorizing the techniques was to improving public understanding of the issues and restoring the public's trust in the government.

Throughout the speech, President Obama referenced the need for public debate about the NSA's surveillance programs, and he admitted that it is not enough for leaders to say, 'Trust us. We won't abuse the data we collect.' It should be obvious, however, that public debate is only useful if the public has an informed understanding about the scope and legality of these programs. And in the absence of access to information detailing the scope and the legal interpretations of the programs, the public has no way to ask good questions and trust in the government will not be strengthened.

We continue to support the important reforms included in the USA Freedom Act and we join with the President's Review Group in calling for fuller transparency for accountability to the public."

The President's Speech in Real Time: "National Security" and "Transparency"

This morning President Obama is expected to give a speech outlining the administration’s plan to reform the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs. We will post analysis of the speech later this afternoon, but to get a rough idea of whether President Obama is prepared to "err on the side of transparency" we are tracking each time “national security” and “transparency” are mentioned together. Click "Read more" to follow the discussion on our twitter feed live.

NSA Reforms: Will the Administration Take On Transparency?

On Friday, January 16th, President Obama will outline the administration’s reforms of the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs. As the Church Committee said in its 1976 report (and the President’s review group cited), “The American public… should know enough about intelligence activities to be able to apply its good sense to the underlying issues of policy and morality. Knowledge is the key to control.” We couldn’t agree more.

Commitment Analysis: Privacy and Transparency in the National Action Plan

The following was written by Ginger McCall of the Sunlight Foundation

The "privacy" commitments contained in the Obama Administration's Second National Action Plan are sorely lacking. It is impossible to truly address privacy and transparency topics without making reforms to the growing surveillance infrastructure, including the surveillance by the National Security Agency.

Commitment Analysis: Open Data in the Second National Action Plan

The following was written by Matthew Rumsey of the Sunlight Foundation

The open data commitments contained in the United States' second Open Government Partnership National Action Plan represent a reiteration of previously stated goals coupled with a few small steps towards spreading the ideals of open data to innovative international projects. 

5 Big Stories of 2013, and Future Expectations

Issues of government secrecy, openness and accountability grabbed headlines across the country during 2013. There are also some issues that might not have had the same amount of exposure, but experienced major changes or challenges. Here is our take on five big stories from 2013 and our future expectations.

The Classified Section

Check out our new blog, The Classified Section, for analysis of national security secrecy.

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