The US Intelligence community has proposed to limit the length of time it can hold information on citizens and hide secret data collections.

The proposals are in response to President Barack Obama‘s statement a year ago, in which he said that reform was needed for American surveillance practices in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations about NSA snooping.

US Proposals

The proposed changes to the US intelligence data gathering and collection were published by director of national intelligence, James Clapper.

According to the Guardian newspaper, the proposals come just six days before German chancellor Angela Merkel‘s visit to Washington. Merkel was also reportedly a victim of NSA snooping.

The US intelligence community has proposed a few modest changes to its existing practices, mostly to do with the measures to tighten up internal guidelines and limit the time that data can be stored about non-US citizens.

The most noteworthy proposal is to limit the time that personal data of non-US citizens can be stored to five years, as long as it is not deemed relevant to ongoing intelligence investigations. After that time, the information would be deleted.

Another proposal will force the intelligence community to delete data about Americans that was “incidentally” collected, for example when personal data is accidentally gathered during a search query.

Another proposal seeks to ask the US Congress to provide foreigners with access to a legal avenue if their private data is wilfully leaked or disclosed by US intelligence agencies.

Pitiful Changes?

But critics argue that the small number of proposed changes does little to stop the mass data harvesting activities of the National Security Agency (NSA), especially the collection of phone meta data that was revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

“One Year Later, Obama Failing on Promise to Rein in NSA,” was the response from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). It said that the reforms fail to fix the problem of unconstitutional National Security Letters. It also doesn’t stop the bulk collection of data on innocent Americans’ digital communications; continues “backdoor” surveillance on Americans without a warrant; and finally fails to provide non-US persons with the same privacy protections afforded US persons.

“President Obama still has time in office to make this right, and he’s got ample power to rein in NSA overreach without Congress lifting a finger,” said the EFF. “But if he continues to offer these weak reforms, then he should be prepared for a major Congressional battle when sections of the Patriot Act come up for reauthorization in June.”

The criticisms by the privacy campaigners was echoed in many media outlets.

“If this is NSA reform, it’s pretty pitiful” wrote Gizmodo. “Minor changes to the nation’s spying laws aren’t earning plaudits from the intelligence community’s civil libertarian critics,” wrote The Hill.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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