The Obama administration may have acknowledged that the National Security Agency’s phone data program went overboard, but it isn’t about to let you see any of the public proposals for how to reform it.
The reason? Privacy, of course.
The NSA’s program collects phone metadata on nearly all telephone calls made to and from the country, regardless of whether the agency suspects that the data involves a possible threat to national security. Many people have criticized the program in its current form, saying the government should request a warrant to gain access to this private phone data.
President Obama recently responded to public outrage over the program by calling for a reform, which would include having the phone record database stored by a third-party organization. Right now we don’t know the specifics of where the phone record database would be stored or how the government would go about requesting access to it.
Over 28 corporations submitted proposals for reforming the program, and that’s what the government refuses to share with the general public. Those proposals came at the request of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which is currently seeking more information on whether commercially available technology could be used.
The ODNI has thus far denied requests for details on both the submitted proposals and the government’s assessment of whether it is possible to use commercially available solutions to manage phone records.
Here’s the response the organization issued to Wired yesterday:
Upon review, ODNI has determined the material should be withheld in its entirety in accordance with FOIA exemptions (b)(4) and (b)(6). Exemption (b)(4) applies to confidential proprietary information involving trade secrets and commercial data obtained from a company which, if released, would result in competitive hard to the company. Exemption (b)(6) applies to information which, if released, would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy of individuals.
So despite the questionable practice of collecting an individual’s private data without a warrant, the government has no problem keeping efforts to reform the NSA’s program under wraps because it would violate a corporation’s right to privacy by releasing “trade secrets” and “commercial data.”
While I understand the ODNI’s stance, I’m not sure that keeping the public in the dark about how to reform the overreaching NSA phone data program is the right move. The public is already on edge about the fact that the NSA collected those phone records to begin with, and not being able to see those proposals certainly doesn’t help.