19 Dec 2013

Call for curbs on US surveillance

8:29 pm on 19 December 2013

A United States government panel has recommended significant curbs on the National Security Agency's sweeping electronic surveillance programmes.

Edward Snowden is a fugitive in Russia.

Edward Snowden is a fugitive in Russia. Photo: AFP / THE GUARDIAN

Among its 46 recommendations, the five-member panel said the NSA should cease storing vast amounts of data on calls processed by US phone companies. It recommended that monitoring of phone calls of foreign leaders would need approval at the highest level in future.

Details of the programme were leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, now a fugitive in Russia. The review comes after a federal judge found the programme unconstitutional, the BBC reports.

In its 308-page report, the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology recommended that the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court only authorise the collection of phone data when it was related to a specific international terrorism investigation and was "reasonable" in scope and breadth.

The data should no longer be stored wholesale by the NSA, the panel recommended, instead remaining in the custody of the phone company or a third party.

It also suggested limits on national security letters, which are legal orders giving the government authority to demand financial and phone records without prior court approval. It recommended intelligence agencies obtain a prior "judicial finding" showing "reasonable grounds" that the information sought is relevant.

US President Barack Obama convened the panel in August this year after Mr Snowden began releasing a trove of internal NSA documents to the media, bringing highly sensitive electronic intelligence programmes to light for the first time and prompting an international outcry over alleged violations of privacy.

It is unclear how many of the panel's suggestions - which intelligence officials are likely to oppose - will be accepted by the Obama administration.