The NSA, Metadata and Straw Men

For the people expecting President Barack Obama to announce sweeping changes to the NSA’s surveillance programs, his speech on Friday likely was a major disappointment. Obama laid out some new controls and limits for some of the more controversial programs, specifically the phone metadata collection system, but much of the speech focused on why the NSA’s programs work and why the existing oversight keeps it in check. Many privacy advocates and former intelligence officials decried the changes as window dressing, but in the wake of his speech, it’s become clear that some key government officials support Obama’s position and see little need for reform.The metadata program has become the poster child for the NSA’s alleged abuses, overreaching and invasions of privacy. The program enables the agency to collect hundreds of millions of phone records from mobile providers every month and store them, under the theory that the agency might at some point need to query that database and see whether there are any calls that could pertain to a terror investigation. Obama announced some new limits on the ways those queries work and also said the government should no longer store that data, but it should instead rest with some third party. The message from Obama was clear: this program is not going away.

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