At a Friday afternoon news conference, President Obama proposed a series of steps designed to mollify critics who argue that the surveillance state has become too intrusive and too secretive. Here are the key parts of the president's reform proposal:
Reform Section 215 of the Patriot Act.
Section 215 gives the government the power to obtain business records that are "relevant" to a terrorism investigation. The Patriot Act's author, Rep James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), has suggested that the government's legal arguments "make a mockery of the legal standard" of Section 215. "I believe there are steps we can take to give the American people confidence that there are additional safeguards against abuse," the president said. He promised "greater oversight, greater transparency, and constraints on the use of this authority," but didn't elaborate on the exact changes he favored.
Reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The secretive FISC reviews government surveillance requests, and critics have characterized the court as a rubber stamp. The president said he favored adding an "independent voice" to the FISC review process to ensure that concerns about civil liberties were being well-represented in the court's deliberations.
The president says he favors a series of reforms designed to make the government's surveillance programs more transparent. "I've directed the intelligence community to make public as much information about these programs as possible," Obama said. The disclosures will include the government's interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act. The president will also name a "full-time civil liberties and privacy officer," and create a new Web site to post documents related to government surveillance.
An independent review panel.
The president plans to name a "high-level group of outside experts" to study the government's surveillance programs and make recommendations on how to make them more effective and accountable. The panel will be asked to make recommendations for ways to "maintain the trust of the people, make sure there's no abuse, and ask how it impacts our foreign policy." He has asked for an interim report in 60 days and a final report by the end of the year.