By Verge Staff on January 17, 2014 12:33 pm
President Obama just announced big changes to America’s massive government surveillance programs, promising to add new safeguards to protect Americans’ privacy and place new restrictions on how the NSA can use the information it collects on ordinary citizens. We’ve graded the big changes below, comparing them to the reforms that were recommended by an independent review panel last year. All in all, the proposed changes mainly concern the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records, not its spying on internet communications. Even accounting for that limitation, they seem good on paper — and far better than many privacy advocates feared — but we’re still waiting to see how they will be enacted.
Our scoring takes into account the fact that Obama can’t single-handedly execute the reforms that the panel recommends; in several cases, Congress will need to pass legal reforms, and in others, departments themselves will need to develop and make changes under his direction. For purposes of grading, we’re also assuming some level of good faith: if a resolution is so broad as to be meaningless, it will affect the score, but guidelines that don’t come with a specific policy directive can still be graded well. Keep in mind that this categorically isn’t an evaluation of what’s going to happen, just what we’re being promised today — for whatever that’s worth. This isn’t a wish list of how the program will ideally be reformed, but it’s holding Obama to the recommendations his panel made.