Open Technology Institute Offers Guidelines for White House’s Group of Outside Experts to Review Government Surveillance Technologies

by | Aug 14, 2013 | IT

Washington, DC — In light of the President’s call for a high-level group of outside technical experts to review the government’s intelligence and communications technologies and subsequent contradictory statements about how that group might be structured, the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute (OTI) is providing guidelines for the government to ensure the best possible outcome. The President first announced that a high-level group would be tasked with reviewing capabilities of surveillance technologies with an eye toward maintaining the public’s trust, but then a memo on Monday tasked the Director of National Intelligence with forming the group and having the group report through that office. The White House later issued a statement that said the DNI will not be part of the group or direct its work.

“Given that one of the major challenges the government faces right now is restoring the public’s trust that it is an ethical Internet steward, this outside group of experts must both be truly independent and remarkably transparent in its work,” said Sascha Meinrath, Vice President of the New America Foundation and Director of the Open Technology Institute. “The Review Group must include well-known outside tech policy experts, and be able to report both to the President and to the public. To rely on so-called independent contractors, many of whom are making millions of dollars off of the cybersecurity-industrial complex already in place, would undermine the President’s goals.”

In order to maintain the public’s trust and review how current surveillance practices impact America’s foreign policy, Internet users, national security, and the private sector, a high-level group should:

  • Be entirely independent, and not composed of any individuals with ties to contractors or companies that are involved with or making money off of any government surveillance programs.
  • Report both to the President and the public, without being filtered through the intelligence community. Understandably the public report would be reviewed by the White House to avoid sensitive classified material from being disseminated.
  • Include representatives from a diverse array of technical backgrounds, including public interest groups, civil rights law firms, and independent technology experts.
  • Since high-level security clearance will be required, the government should not use this as an excuse to limit membership of the group. If thousands of independent contractors can be given clearance, the government can find a way to identify real outside experts, and process them for clearance for this Review Group.

“Restoring the public trust and assessing the threats to our security, to the private sector, and to users is too important to allow arbitrary timelines and limitations to impede a real review,” added Meinrath. “The government should take the time to get this group and this process right.”

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