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Obama's NSA Speech Gets Mixed Tech Sector Reactions

Telecommunications providers, Internet companies and privacy advocates are giving President Obama mixed reviews for his Friday reform speech.
Posted at 11:32 AM, Jan 18, 2014

Now that President Obama's hotly-anticipated NSA reform address has had a day to sink in, tech companies, privacy watchdogs and telecom providers are giving him mixed scores.

The president's proposed changes include requiring a FISA court order to query the NSA's phone records metadata collections, custody of which could eventually be handed off to a third party like the wireless carriers. (Via C-SPAN)

Obama also promised more privacy protections for non-U.S. citizens, surveillance restrictions on friendly heads of state and the creation of a public advocacy board that will appear in cases before the FISA court. (Via The White House)

That court will declassify more of its decisions, and Internet companies will be able to disclose more of the governmental data requests they receive. (Via Google)

It's progress, but not as much progress as the tech sector was hoping for. First off, telecoms aren't all that interested in the headaches of long-term data storage that would come along with the phone records database.

Politico quotes the head of CTIA, the wireless industry's biggest trade group: "this balance [between privacy and security] can be achieved without the imposition of data retention mandates that obligate carriers to keep customer information any longer than necessary for legitimate business purposes."

The Mozilla project welcomes the new oversight in a post on its blog, but laments the NSA's continued dragnet operations.

"We'd hoped for, and the Internet deserves, more. Without a meaningful change of course, the Internet will continue on its path toward a world of balkanization and distrust, a grave departure from its origins of openness and opportunity."

The EFF indicates despite its strides forward, the Obama administration has yet to ensure robust reforms.

The president didn't extend any new protections for whistleblowers, or bring new transparency to the NSA's operation; nor did he express any apparent intent to stop undermining Internet encryption.

Wired points out Obama barely touched on the NSA’s use of software backdoors and database vulnerabilities to collect data from Internet companies, or on its deploying malware and disguised hardware to break into computer networks across the world.

But despite plenty of perceived misses from the administration, the tech sector is recognizing its first steps toward more thorough reform. (Via the ACLU)

The next steps could come as the administration begins weighing its options for oversight of the NSA's phone metadata records. President Obama has set a deadline of March 28 for the program to come up for renewal.