With exceedingly low expectations for President Obama’s long-awaited reforms to U.S. surveillance programs, critics now are planning a ‘day of action’ to voice their displeasure and disappointment with the White House and the National Security Agency.
On Feb. 11, thousands of websites, including such major sites such as Mozilla and Reddit, will ask visitors to call or email Congress and demand true reforms to the NSA spying programs first pushed into the spotlight by former agency contractor Edward Snowden.
“This is not a debate the president wanted. This is a debate that was thrust on him by public outcry when the extent of the global spying regime was revealed,” said David Segal, executive director of the civil liberties advocacy group Demand Progress. The organization is organizing the Feb. 11 event, dubbed “the day we fight back.”
On Friday, Mr. Obama will outline an overhaul to government data-collection and spying efforts in light of a string of sensational revelations provided by Mr. Snowden. The White House’s hand-picked review board has identified 46 changes that could be made to both increase transparency and better protect the privacy rights of average Americans.
Among the changes, the panel recommended the NSA or other government arms no longer store in-house Americans’ telephone records or other communications, and that such information instead be kept by third parties such as phone companies and accessed only when the government can demonstrate just cause.
The speech will be a key moment for the president, who came into office promising a break from the policies of his predecessor, former President George W. Bush.
Instead, however, Mr. Obama has continued government surveillance efforts and, in some cases, may have expanded them.
Privacy groups from both the left and right are not expecting any dramatic changes to come out of Friday’s address, which Mr. Obama will deliver from the Justice Department.
“President Obama’s trajectory on these issues, from reformer to supporter of these programs, has been very dispiriting to those of us who are concerned about these programs and would like to see them reined in,” said Kevin Bankston, policy director for the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation. Mr. Bankston and other privacy advocates hosted a conference call for reporters in advance of the president’s Friday remarks.