By Matthew Hoye
President Barack Obama has some room to maneuver in crafting reforms to the National Security Agency’s massive data collection program.
A national security expert tells CNN that the President, in fact, has “a lot of leeway in terms of what to recommend and not recommend.”
Obama is expected to announce changes to the surveillance initiative at a speech at the Justice Department on Friday .
An independent review ordered by Obama amid concerns that NSA snooping, revealed in leaks by Edward Snowden last year, had gone too far recommended that government do a better job of protecting civil liberties.
The choice Obama makes will permanently place his signature on the intelligence initiative and help define his legacy as a chief executive who promised a more open and transparent government when he entered the White House five years ago.
NSA domestic and international phone and e-mail surveillance is considered some of the most widespread intelligence gathering performed by the U.S. government.
Karen Greenberg, Director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School in New York, believes Obama will probably err on the side of transparency,
“This is a President who, despite his critics and despite his wanting to keep some things secret, has always wanted to be seen as a President who embraces transparency,” Greenberg said.
She said Obama faces “the tenor” of the public, which seems to indicate that “there is a trend toward wanting to restrain the powers of the intelligence community.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Monday that the Obama administration wants to be as transparent as possible.
“We are talking about intelligence gathering and there are, almost by definition, aspects of it that have to remain secret in order to be effective. But there should be, in the President's view, steps that we can take to build confidence about the way these programs are administered,” Carney said.
Greenberg said steps going forward most likely will include implementing some recommendations from the review.
She predicted he will order private companies to assume responsibility for storing private data, which the government could not access unless requested.
Greenberg said Obama also may recommend establishing an adversarial legal process to protect civil liberties.
For example, when the government asks for court approval to collect data or other information, some kind of board or person could be tapped “to fight for the other side for the right to privacy – the right not to be surveilled and to have the government have your information if there is not some standard of cause to do so.”
Greenberg said Obama could also adopt ”the strengthening of a civil liberties and privacy protection board to make sure there is an ongoing conversation on the proper balance between liberty and security when it comes to the issue of surveillance.”
Carney said Monday that Obama had not yet finalized his recommendations.
He said the President’s goal is to give the public “more confidence” in NSA programs and demonstrate “that they are pursued in a way that meets the standard the President set, which is that we do what we should do in order to keep the American people safe and the country safe and our allies safe, not just what we can do because we have the capacity to do it.“