WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama Tuesday met members of a review board set up to consider the reach of secret US snooping programs exposed by leaker Edward Snowden, sparking a privacy furor.
Obama set up the board amid rising public disquiet over the sweeping and covert telephone and Internet spying operations which have sprouted as part of Washington’s technological war on terror.
The president has said he welcomes public debate on the issue, though critics say that he only moved to engage on the secret programs once the National Security Agency (NSA) operations were blown by Snowden.
The group is made up of former US counter-terrorism analyst Richard Clarke, the ex-acting head of the CIA Michael Morrell, former Obama aide Cass Sunstein, Peter Swire, a former White House privacy official and Obama supporter turned critic and University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone.
The group will brief Obama within 60 days of starting work through the Director of National Intelligence.
They will produce a full report on any changes that are needed to the programs.
The Group is tasked with reviewing how the United States can collect phone and Internet data in a way that balances national security with privacy rights and civil liberties.
But critics of the panel have already described the personnel chosen to conduct the review as too close to the president and the intelligence community.
Clarke had a long career in government and intelligence, but emerged as a vocal critic of the Bush administration over missed intelligence leads ahead of the September 11 attacks in 2001.
Stone, though a former college colleague and supporter of Obama is an advocate for government transparency and has been critical of the president’s record on secrecy and transparency.
Sunstein is married to the president’s long-time foreign policy confidant and current US ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power.
Obama pledged earlier this month to overhaul US secret surveillance and promised greater oversight and transparency. He pledged to ask Congress to reform one of the most controversial sections of the Patriot Act passed in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks — Section 215, which gives the government access to telephone and other records of its citizens.
In a newly declassified memo, the Justice Department said the program recorded data — such as duration and numbers — of phone calls feared to involve “terrorists” but did not record the conversations.
Obama also called for the start of debate in the court that authorizes surveillance, which now only receives requests from the government without hearing any counter-arguments as is customary in virtually all of the US judiciary.
Controversy over the programs has grown since Snowden, a former US government contractor who fled to Russia, revealed some of the more sweeping aspects of US surveillance on citizens’ Internet searches and telephone records.