Surveillance Transparency

PCLOB Reaffirms Need for Transparency

Statement of Patrice McDermott, Executive Director of OpenTheGovernment.org 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.

Partners React to President Obama’s Speech on NSA Reforms

President Obama broadly outlined reforms to the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs at a January 17th speech at the Department of Justice. OpenTheGovernment.org highlighted the need for increased transparency around the legal authorization and breadth of the programs in our statement. Here’s link round-up of how our partners responded to the speech:

Curbing National Security Excesses Requires Transparency

Statement of Patrice McDermott, Executive Director of OpenTheGovernment.org 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.

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.

Knowledge is the Key to Control: The White House Surveillance Panel on the Need for Greater Transparency

The Final Report of the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies was released this past Wednesday (December 18). The Review Group was established by President Obama to make a report and recommendations “to protect our national security and advance our foreign policy while also respecting our longstanding commitment to privacy and civil liberties, recognizing our need to maintain the public trust (including the trust of our friends and allies abroad), and reducing the risk of unauthorized disclosures.” 

54 Groups Oppose the FISA Improvements Act

Good government, civil liberties, and openness groups called upon Congress to oppose S.1631, the FISA Improvements Act. As the letter states succinctly, "The FISA Improvements Act does not offer real reform to stop the NSA’s mass collection of our communications and communications records.  Instead, S.

Facing Surveillance and National Security as a Member of the OGP

As a co-founder of the Open Government Partnership, the United States is perfectly placed to model open government’s potential and to set a high bar of ambition for member countries’ action plans. The US’ plans, successes, failures, and neglects are placed in a glaring spotlight. A statement of concern addressed to the new OGP co-Chairs from more than 100 civil society organizations from across the globe called out a significant threat to open government found in many OGP member countries: the secret surveillance of the communications of millions.

Groups Challenge Obama: Commit to Curb Secret Law

On October 21 OpenTheGovernment.org released a letter signed by 45 national security and transparency organizations urging President Obama to commit to making publicly available authoritative legal interpretations that are currently secret -– in order to begin to address domestic concerns that laws are being implemented in ways beyond what was thought allowable and to rebuild faith with our international partners. Among the groups joining the effort are the ACLU, the Constitution Project, Win Without War, Human Rights Watch, EFF, and the Liberty Coalition.