‘Music on the Titanic’: Early reviews slam Obama’s surveillance overhaul

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President Obama’s proposed changes to U.S. snooping and data-collection fell far short of what privacy advocates hoped for, and early reviews of the White House’s revamped approach have been scathing.

“The big-picture takeaway from today’s speech is that the right to privacy remains under grave threat both here at home and around the world … President Obama’s surveillance adjustments will be remembered as the music on the Titanic unless his administration adopts deeper reforms,” said Steven W. Hawkins, executive director of Amnesty International USA.

In a long-awaited speech at the Justice Department, Mr. Obama on Friday announced that intelligence analysts at the National Security Agency and elsewhere cannot query the vast pool of metadata gathered on millions of Americans without first undergoing judicial review.

Among other changes, the president also said he wants his administration, in consultation with Congress, to figure out a way to store that data outside of government hands.

But the collection of Americans’ phone records and other information will continue.

“Rather than dismantling the NSA’s unconstitutional mass surveillance programs, or even substantially restraining them, President Obama today has issued his endorsement of them,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, a constitutional rights attorney and executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, an anti-surveillance and privacy advocacy group. “What are billed as ‘reforms’ are mere window dressing, cosmetic change that leave this unconstitutional system intact and, in fact, provide presidential ratification.”

Some lawmakers agree with that overall assessment.

“I didn’t hear any lessening of the spying on Americans or collecting records of Americans. I heard ‘trust me, I’m going to put some more safeguards in place but I’m going to keep right on collecting every American’s records,’” said Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican.

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