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Obama Criticized for Top Pick to Snooping Review Committee
The National Law Journal
A government review of its telephone and Internet surveillance technologies already has raised questions about credibility because of the man President Barack Obama selected to lead it.
Obama sent a memorandum on Monday ordering Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to form the group, which will assess whether the United States uses data-collection capabilities to protect national security while maintaining privacy and public trust.
"Recent years have brought unprecedented and rapid advancements in communications technologies, particularly with respect to global telecommunications," Obama said in the memorandum. "I believe it is important to take stock of how these technological advances alter the environment in which we conduct our intelligence mission."
Obama had pledged to form "a high-level group of outside experts," and talked about "this independent group" on Friday during a press conference kicking off a White House push to regain the public's trust.
Obama also announced that he would open previously secret legal opinions and pursue reforms to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that oversees the nation's surveillance programs.
"We need new thinking for a new era," Obama said at the time.
But Clapper has been accused of lying to Congress about the reach of National Security Agency surveillance programs. He acknowledged that his denial during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in March that the NSA had collected any data at all about Americans "was clearly erroneous."
Since then, leaks to the media by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden demonstrated that the government was routinely collecting metadata on millions of Americans telephone records. In a June letter apologizing to committee chairwoman Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Clapper said he now could correct his answer because the data collection program has been declassified.
Additionally, the ACLU named Clapper as a defendant in a lawsuit arguing the metadata collection program is unconstitutional, Ars Technica has reported.
Jameel Jaffer, an ACLU attorney on that lawsuit, expressed his disappointment in the selection of Clapper to lead the group. "New oversight board will be 'independent' in the same sense that the collected metadata is 'relevant,' " Jaffer wrote on his Twitter account.
Glenn Greenwald, a journalist for The Guardian who broke stories about government surveillance programs, also criticized the selection. "Only in DC: James Clapper, instead of being prosecuted or fired for lying to Congress, will now lead the review of the programs he lied about," Greenwald said on Twitter.
The review group will deliver its interim findings to Obama within 60 days and provide a final report with recommendations no later than December 15, Clapper said.