privacy wars

Here Are The Highlights Of Obama’s NSA Speech

Condensed for your optimum enjoyment.
A giant photo of Barack Obama so that everyone you work with will know you're reading something smart. (Photo: Getty)

A giant photo of Barack Obama at today’s press conference, so that everyone you work with will know you’re reading something smart. (Photo: Getty)

President Barack Obama said, oh, 5,038 words this morning about security, privacy and the NSA. You could read the whole thing by clicking here, or check out the New York Times‘s analysis here. Or you could just read the highlights below, bulleted and accompanied by easily digestible Betabeat commentary.

Basically, you can kill, roast, skin and eat an entire pig — or just down some hot dogs. We think we know what your choice is going to be. Now grab a hold of your buns because there’s a whole lot of frankfurter coming your way.

Here’s what the president announced:

• The Oval Office is going to have more oversight of intelligence activities. The president will be able to review decisions about intelligence properties and sensitive targets on an annual basis, with his senior national security team scrutinizing intelligence actions. Because nobody does “oversight” better than the people who are already in power?

• At the very least, intelligence agencies will need to get permission from a secret court if they want to tap into telephone data, the Times reports, and that data will ultimately be moved out of the hands of the government. The vast collection of phone data as it exists today will come to an end.

• The State Department will appoint a senior official to coordinate diplomacy on issues related to technology and signals intelligence (aka spying on your phone activity). Again, oversight.

• The White House will appoint a senior official to implement new privacy safeguards. Even more oversight! But no real changes in policy just yet.

• Resources will be devoted to centralizing and improving the process used to handle foreign requests for legal assistance, “keeping our high standards for privacy while helping foreign partners fight crime and terrorism.”

• White House special advisor John Podesta will lead a comprehensive review of big data and privacy. He’ll oversee a group consisting of government officials who will talk to privacy experts, technologists and business leaders to look at how challenges inherent in big data are being confronted by both the public and private sectors, as well as whether an international standard can be set.

• The NSA will not monitor the communications of the U.S.’s close friends and allies, so that’s nice.

• Notably absent: any mention of the Patriot Act. We command+F’ed that puppy and he didn’t say the words once.

Here are some of Barry’s other salient points:

• “Our intelligence agencies will continue to gather information about the intentions of governments – as opposed to ordinary citizens – around the world, in the same way that the intelligence services of every other nation does. We will not apologize simply because our services may be more effective.” Oh, snap!

• Globalization and the Internet mean that threats to our national security don’t always come in the form of another country’s leaders threatening us anymore.  That’s why espionage tactics have changed and the NSA looks inward as well as beyond our borders. As the president said, “While few doubted the legitimacy of spying on hostile states, our framework of laws was not fully adapted to prevent terrorist attacks by individuals acting on their own, or acting in small, ideologically driven groups rather than on behalf of a foreign power.”

• “What’s really at stake is how we remain true to who we are in a world that is remaking itself at dizzying speed.” Obviously we do that through selfies, Barack.

• “No one expects China to have an open debate about their surveillance programs,” he pointed out kind of dejectedly, “or Russia to take the privacy concerns of citizens into account.” Russia also punishes people for being gay so maybe let’s rally to those higher standards?

• “I’m not going to dwell on Mr. Snowden’s actions of motivations … If any individual who objects to government policy can take it in their own hands to publicly disclose classified information, then we will never be able to keep our people safe, or conduct foreign policy.” Translation: I am mad at Edward Snowden because if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t have to be making this speech right now and appointing all these committees and stuff so please, federal employees, don’t leak any more information.

• “Corporations of all shapes and sizes track what you buy, store and analyze our data, and use it for commercial purposes,” he said. He has a point, y’all. “That’s how those targeted ads pop up on your computer or smartphone,” he added. Wonder if he gets the nonstop ads for Poo Pourri that cloud Betabeat’s browser experience?

• “Having faced down the totalitarian dangers of fascism and communism, the world expects us to stand up for the principle that every person has the right to think and write and form relationships freely – because individual freedom is the wellspring of human progress.” Okay, now we’re weeping with jingoistic pride we haven’t felt since watching the interactive Freedom Rising presentation at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia. (Trust us, it’s a real tear–jerker.)

• “Together, let us chart a way forward that secures the life of our nation, while preserving the liberties that make our nation worth fighting for.” Okay, we’re down!!! Just please, for the love of God, don’t start looking at our Snapchats.

Follow Molly Mulshine on Twitter or via RSS. mmulshine@observer.com