The NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden says the proposals issued by Barack Obama to end the NSA bulk telephony metadata collection program that hacked the cells of millions of Americans is a turning point, but the reform is incomplete.
"This is a turning point, and it marks the beginning of a new effort to reclaim our rights from the NSA and restore the public's seat at the table of government," said Snowden in a statement published on the official website of the American Civil Liberties Union organization.
According to the whistleblower, the Obama administration wouldn’t consider any of such reforms if no information on the scope of surveillance had been disclosed.
"I believed that if the NSA's unconstitutional mass surveillance of Americans was known, it would not survive the scrutiny of the courts, the Congress, and the people,” he told the union.
On Tuesday, President Barack Obama called to revamp the surveillance program, a systematic dragnet that gathers the telephone records of US citizens.
The reform would allow the NSA to access specific records only through a newly-established court order. According to the plan reported by the New York Times on Monday night, the records would stay in the possession of phone companies for a legally required period of 18 months. The NSA currently holds data for up to five years.
Should it be approved by Congress it will demand that phone companies provide records to the US government “in a technologically compatible data format, including making available, on a continuing basis, data about any new calls placed or received after the order is received.”
The revamped orders would also allow the government to look for related records for callers up to two ‘hops’ away from the number that is being monitored.
However, the reform is yet to be properly unveiled while some criticized the fact that the administration’s plan only addresses the phone metadata program and disregards other forms of bulk collection under Section 215 that allows the NSA to analyze associations between callers.
Snowden, while welcoming the reform, pointed out that it was incomplete.
"The very first open and adversarial court to ever judge these programs has now declared them 'Orwellian' and 'likely unconstitutional,' said Snowden, “In the USA FREEDOM Act, Congress is considering historic, albeit incomplete, reforms.”
“The president’s proposal, as described, would require intelligence agencies to get court approval before obtaining phone records, but the Obama proposal is only limited to phone records,” Harley Geiger, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology, also said in a statement.
In January, Obama said he wanted to reform the NSA’s bulk collection of domestic phone data, though without significantly weakening the agency’s surveillance capabilities. Despite this assurance, critics of NSA activity are hesitant to celebrate the proposal just yet.
The bulk telephony data collection program was first disclosed in June by former NSA contractor and CIA employee Edward Snowden, prompting media outlets to start the unceasing flow of leaks on the global surveillance practices of the NSA and its counterparts, the so-called Five Eyes alliance.
The US government calls the program a useful tool in its anti-terrorism operations, yet has offered few specifics on how the program has helped thwart any attacks.
Snowden, who now resides in Russia under a political asylum, still provokes discontent in the USA. According to the NSA director Keith Alexander, the possibility that future data leaked by Snowden may lead to deaths, now represents the “greatest concern.”