Slatest PM: What Obama Didn't Talk About During His Big NSA Speech

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Jan. 17 2014 4:02 PM

Slatest PM: What Obama Didn't Talk About During His Big NSA Speech

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U.S. President Barack Obama waves after speaking about the National Security Agency (NSA) at the Justice Department, on January 17, 2014 in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

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Obama Talks NSA Reforms: New York Times: "President Obama, declaring that advances in technology had made it harder 'to both defend our nation and uphold our civil liberties,' announced carefully calculated changes to surveillance policies on Friday, saying he would restrict the ability of intelligence agencies to gain access to telephone data, and would ultimately move that data out of the hands of the government. But Mr. Obama left in place significant elements of the broad surveillance net assembled by the National Security Agency, and left the implementation of many of his changes up to Congress and the intelligence agencies themselves. In a much-anticipated speech that ranged from lofty principles to highly technical details, Mr. Obama said he would require prior court approval for the viewing of telephone data. He also said he would forbid eavesdropping on the leaders of allied countries, after the disclosure of such activities ignited a diplomatic firestorm with Germany and other friendly nations."

What Obama Didn't Cover: Washington Post: "These reforms are narrowly targeted at the NSA's phone metadata program under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. They don't cover other programs the government carries out under Section 215, such as the reported scraping of financial information by the CIA. They don't address the NSA's counter-encryption activities or any geolocation information that the NSA may have or may be collecting. They also don't address other programs like those conducted under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, which is the authority under which PRISM operates. Some of the reforms, both on the telephony metadata surveillance and others that the President is announcing today, require an act of Congress, and given the Senate's general support for the NSA throughout the controversy, it's unclear how much traction these proposals will get. Much of the spying that happens internationally will also remain untouched."

Questions Remain: Associated Press: "Even with Obama's decisions, key questions about the future of the surveillance apparatus remain. While Obama wants to strip the NSA of its ability to store the phone records, he offered no recommendation for where the data should be moved. Instead, he gave the intelligence community and the attorney general 60 days to study options, including proposals from a presidential review board that recommended the telephone companies or an unspecified third party. ... There appeared to be some initial confusion about Congress' role in authorizing any changes. An administration official said Obama could codify the data transfer through an executive order, while some congressional aides said legislation would be required. ... Congress would have to approve a proposal from the president that would establish a panel of outside attorneys who would consult with the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on new legal issues that arise. The White House says the panel would advocate for privacy and civil liberties as the court weighed requests for accessing the phone records."

Slate's Coverage of Obama's Big NSA Speech:

It's Friday, January 17th, welcome to the Slatest PM. Follow your afternoon host on Twitter at @JoshVoorhees, and the whole team at @Slatest.

Outward: Putin Tells Gays to “Leave Kids Alone” at the Olympics

SCOTUS Agrees to Hear Cellphone Search Cases: USA Today: "Delving into the legal jungle of privacy and technology, the Supreme Court agreed Friday to consider two cases that test whether cellphones and smartphones can be searched without a warrant. The cases, which could be heard by the court in April and decided by late June, involve searches performed by police that turned relatively minor traffic and drug infractions into major felony convictions. In both cases, the crucial information was found on the suspects' mobile phones. On one level, the cases represent an inevitable Supreme Court entry into the world of cellphones, owned by more than nine in 10 American adults. In the past few years, courts from California to Texas to Florida have split over the issue of cellphones and digital content. On another level, the cases may be just a precursor to more expansive and potentially explosive high court inquiries. Those could include an examination of the National Security Agency's phone and computer surveillance methods, on which two federal district judges have diverged in recent weeks."

Business Insider: For the First Time, Hackers Have Used a Refrigerator to Attack Businesses

Executed Inmate's Family to Sue: NBC News: "The family of the Ohio man executed with a new lethal mixture of drugs on Thursday is pursuing a lawsuit to assure that other death row inmates do not experience the same unusual execution circumstances he did, the family and their attorney said Friday. 'I can't think of any other way to describe it than torture,' said Amber McGuire, the adult daughter of Dennis McGuire, who was put to death on Thursday by use of a combination of drugs that had never been used for capital punishment before."

Slatest Flashback: Did Ohio's New Lethal-Injection Cocktail Lead to a Cruel and Unusual Death For Dennis McGuire?

Benedict Defrocked 400 In Just 2 Years: Associated Press: "A document obtained by The Associated Press on Friday shows Pope Benedict XVI defrocked nearly 400 priests over just two years for sexually molesting children. The statistics for 2011 and 2012 show a dramatic increase over the 171 priests removed in 2008 and 2009, when the Vatican first provided details on the number of priests who have been defrocked. Prior to that, it had only publicly revealed the number of alleged cases of sexual abuse it had received and the number of trials it had authorized. While it's not clear why the numbers spiked in 2011, it could be because 2010 saw a new explosion in the number of cases reported in the media in Europe and beyond. The document was prepared from data the Vatican had been collecting and was compiled to help the Holy See defend itself before a U.N. committee this week in Geneva."

Weigel: Pennsylvania's Voter ID Law Loses in Court

Calif.'s "Unprecedented" Drought: San Jose Mercury News: "Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday officially declared that California is in a drought emergency, as the state struggled with the least amount of rainfall in its 153-year history, reservoirs were at low levels and firefighters remained on high alert. 'We are in an unprecedented, very serious situation,' Brown said. The governor asked California residents and businesses to voluntarily reduce their water consumption by 20 percent. In practical terms, the drought declaration also streamlines the rules for water agencies to transfer extra water from one part of the state to another, easing shortages. It also raises public awareness."

The World: Who Are You Calling "Al-Qaida"?

Smoking Is Even Worse For You Than You Thought: CBS/AP: "The surgeon general’s latest smoking report warns unless current tobacco use rates fall, another 5.6 million U.S. kids might die prematurely. The report, the first in more than a decade, found that smoking has killed more than 20 million Americans prematurely in the last half century. Smoking causes more deaths each year than HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries and firearm-related incidents combined, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ... In Friday’s new report—which was released about 50 years after the first surgeon general's report declared smoking a human health hazard—liver and colorectal cancers, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and even erectile dysfunction joined the list of smoking-related diseases."

Weigel: Ted Cruz Says He Will "Do Anything" to Stop Obamacare, Doesn't Actually Do Anything

That's all for this week. See you back here Tuesday. Until then, tell your friends to subscribe or simply forward the newsletter on and let them make up their own minds.

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. Follow him on Twitter.