Since Edward Snowden dropped the bombshell last year that the NSA and other intelligence agencies (we’re looking at you – while you look at us – GCHQ) around the world were snooping through our digital underwear drawers, there’s one person we all wanted to hear from: Obama. While he’s not had the greatest track record since entering office on the back of a hugely successful election campaign, it was still hoped that due to the public outpouring of condemnation in relation to the intelligence agencies’ surveillance, that we’d get some new restrictions and public safeguards. Now he has spoken out about it and we did indeed get some better provisions for privacy, but some think they don’t go far enough.
Announced in what was titled the Presidential Policy Directive (PPD) 28, Obama promised to make several changes, some of which were focused on preventing a “loss of international trust in US firms,” which has been snowballing since the original revelations that any company with an HQ in the US could potentially have all of its customers’ data confiscated by the NSA. The worst part of the whole thing was that they couldn’t even tell their customers if it happened.
So, to start with tech companies will have more freedom to discuss any information sharing it is forced to do by the government and the foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, would now feature members that were experts in civil liberties and technology to offer a more balanced take on any data gathering. The State Department is also taking on a new officer to specifically liaise with other countries over the security and privacy issues and encourage them to continue using US companies.
However, Obama isn’t ending any of the programs that caused these problems in the first place. Bulk data collection will continue, despite its awful track record, though agencies may have limited access to it. There was also no talk of a block on an email mass collection scheme, though it was suggested that it might be debated at some point instead of simply being enacted on a whim.
There was also no word on what Obama thought or knew about the backdoors and encrpytion weakening attempts by the NSA that made many tech companies incredibly vulnerable, leading those same firms to suggest that they would continue to press for more reforms.
One nice turn out from the whole thing though that doesn’t affect Americans, but the rest of the world, is that for the first time the US will grant privacy protections to foreign nationals, with their information only being accessed if that person themselves was a threat to national security. Of course that sort of reason could easily be used for anything with a bit of bending of the rules, but it’s a marked change from the US’ traditional separatist us and them attitude.
Going forward, Obama also announced a study that would look into the impact of big data on personal privacy. This could end up negatively impacting tech companies, by restricting the way they collect or store data.
KitGuru Says: Not the most uplifting of addresses, but at least there are some changes being made. It’ll probably end up being business as usual, but at least with the added transparency we might know more about what’s going on.