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.

The plan discusses making privacy impact assessments and related documents more easy to find, which would be an improvement, but not a particularly ambitious or meaningful one. Most of the agencies involved in the most expansive collection of data don't make publicly available privacy impact assessments. A more meaningful change would involve making all agencies – including intelligence agencies – create publicly available privacy impact assessments for all mass data collection.

The only section that addresses intelligence agencies – titled Increase Transparency of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Activities – suffers from the same problem that many of the other commitments suffer from: they are redundant with pre-existing commitments or requirements. There is little that is new or noteworthy here. The aggregate numbers of national security letters and FISA court orders are already publicly available. Declassification is already ongoing, and the declassification paragraph is vague enough to not provide any new commitments, metrics, or benchmarks. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is already up and running (at long last).

The NAP 2.0 commitments do nothing to effectively combat the underlying culture of secrecy still remains in the intelligence agencies. In order to truly address privacy and transparency in a meaningful way, the Obama Administration needs to face the difficult issues head-on and make strong commitments for reform. 

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