Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Lisa Monaco announced on February 3 an update prepared by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on signals intelligence reform. This is part of an effort to improve protections for privacy and civil liberties in U.S. surveillance activities. The basis for these reforms is contained in Presidential Policy Directive-28, which President Obama signed on January 17, 2014. President Obama delivered a speech on that day on surveillance.
The individual reforms described in the update are often relatively modest. However, they should be seen in totality. Assuming announced reforms are implemented, and assuming legislative changes sought by the Administration are achieved, the reforms would be significant.
The report released by the Director of National Intelligence is of interest to both Americans and non-Americans. Ms. Monaco was right to note that U.S. surveillance activities protect both U.S. citizens and the citizens of American allies and partners. Furthermore, both U.S. citizens and foreigners have legitimate privacy concerns with respect to how surveillance is conducted.
One foreign policy challenge facing the United States today – and one with important economic implications – remains how to restore trust in transatlantic relations on surveillance matters. A significant element in this challenge is to extend U.S. Privacy Act Protections to EU citizens. We are on record as to supporting this legislation. This legislation would give an EU citizen the ability to go to court in the United States to seek redress for intentional or willful disclosure of protected information. This would be symbolically significant and something citizens in Europe would readily understand.
It is positive that the Administration is working with Congress on legislation providing for judicial redress. Work on this should be accelerated, including the public diplomacy, and drafts should be shared with the public to underscore the commitment of the Administration on this symbolically important initiative.