Surveillance Reform: Moving the Conversation Forward and Beyond our Borders

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Today’s report issued by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) is another step forward in reforming the nation’s surveillance framework, and providing useful perspectives that can apply in a global context.

In addition to calling for the U.S. government to end the bulk telephone records program, PCLOB’s recommendations – like  those issued by the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies and those called for by President Obama in his public remarks last week – include measures that will enhance transparency and oversight in connection with the surveillance activities of the U.S. government.

These recommendations include:

  • Establishing a panel of Special Advocates to appear before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to address privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties interests.
  • Releasing to the public appropriate opinions of the FISC that involve novel legal interpretations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), or other significant questions of law, technology, or compliance.
  • Developing rules to enable companies to voluntarily disclose information relating to the government surveillance requests received.
  • Requiring the U.S. government to disclose more detailed information about the scope of its FISA surveillance.

In addition, PCLOB specifically urges the U.S. government to begin to develop principles and criteria relating to transparency, which would determine “what must be kept secret and what can be released as to existing and future programs that affect the American public.”

Several of these recommendations are consistent with ones made by ITI in written submissions to PCLOB, the Obama Administration, and the Review Group for Intelligence and Communications Technologies.

Legislative action will be necessary to implement some of these proposed reforms, like the panel of Special Advocates within the FISC, and ITI urges Congress to take action this year on surveillance reform.

While ITI is encouraged by the national conversation on surveillance reform, these discussions must extend beyond our nation’s borders. In today’s global environment, international norms relating to surveillance activities are critical if we are to grow our global economy.  To that end, on January 16, 2014, ITI and the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) issued a set of seven Global Principles intended to apply to governments around the world in connection with the collection of private sector data from commercial entities.  These principles complement those previously released by eight highly impacted companies.

In addition to greater transparency and meaningful oversight, the Global Principles call for governments around the world to recognize that national surveillance frameworks have global impacts, and to engage in multilateral discussions to minimize adverse impacts in connection with the collection of private sector data.

PCLOB’s report can serve not only as a way forward for reform in the United States, but as an additional and useful catalyst in sparking the necessary global conversations on surveillance, and moving toward a global set of practices that will serve both the security and economic interests of the global community.

 

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