IAPP-GDPR Web Banners-300x250-FINAL

By Sam Pfeifle
Publications Director

News that NSA analysts knowingly violated surveillance authority over the past decade, and were in fact disciplined for it, is just the latest information drawing attention to U.S. intelligence data-gathering activities. That attention has been growing increasingly uncomfortable for the Obama administration since the first revelations from whistleblower Edward Snowden earlier this summer.

That scrutiny now looks to be leading to active changes. In its first major missive since its resurrection earlier this year, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board has sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper telling them the board believes that “key policies and procedures addressing privacy and civil liberties should be kept up to date to take into account new developments including technological advancements.”

As part of its investigation into NSA surveillance and other U.S. government surveillance activities, the board “learned that key procedures that form the guidelines to protect ‘information concerning United States persons’ have not comprehensively been updated, in some cases in almost three decades, despite dramatic changes in information use and technology.”

The PCLOB thus requests that Holder and Clapper update those procedures and deliver to the board by Oct. 31 an “agency-by-agency schedule establishing a time-frame for updating each agency’s guidelines.”

If that isn’t enough impetus for change at the NSA and other agencies, there are other forces at work as well. While the NSA over-reaching in the past has been described as “inadvertent,” the NSA has revealed that there have been, indeed, willful and deliberate violates of NSA policy, and that disciplinary actions have been taken.

After similar willful breaking of the law at the IRS earlier this year, we saw bills introduced that would actually make political targeting at the IRS a criminal offense, with jail sentences of up to five years and fines of up to $5,000 imposed, in addition to termination, though the Taxpayer Nondiscrimination & Protection Act of 2013, for example, has not yet exited committee. Further, “a total of five executives are no longer in the positions they held at the time that the TIGTA report was published,” according to acting IRS Director Daniel Werfel’s report in June.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) told the AP that it amounts to roughly one violation a year over the last decade, and that she is now “reviewing each of these incidents in detail.” It’s unclear what actions will be taken, if any, after that review is completed.

The New York Times also has a report out of Berlin that the continuing leaks of NSA activities is seriously straining U.S.-German political ties. The paper has learned that “top German officials traveled to Washington this month to press an unusual demand: to negotiate a new formal agreement with the United States that neither side will spy on the other.” This follows a report in the German paper Der Spiegel that revealed American eavesdropping at the United Nations.

However, according to the report, Chancellor Merkel’s political opponents have yet to make hay out of the NSA revelations and the general public is as of yet not upset with the way she’s handled the situation, according to opinion polls.

Also in Europe, following threatening from the GCHQ, the intelligence arm of the British government, The Guardian, which has been the conduit for most of Edward Snowden’s leaks, has reached an agreement with The New York Times to share the information it has been given, due to stronger press protections in the United States than in the UK.

Further pressure may be applied to the Obama administration with the first of the papers’ co-reported stories see the light of day in the coming weeks.

Finally, there is plenty of evidence that the NSA-privacy story is reaching deeper into the public consciousness. As just one example, the University of Texas’ Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law has proposed a workshop for the popular music and technology conference SXSW called, “After Snowden: Privacy, Surveillance, and the NSA.

If you’d like to vote to see the panel discussion picked up for the conference, you can click here (though a log-in/registration is required for voting).

Read More By Sam Pfeifle:
PRIVACY IN POPULAR CULTURE: Privacy Is “More Complicated Than We Realized”
PricewaterhouseCoopers Exploring Privacy Roles
PRIVACY IN POPULAR CULTURE: Talking With Cullen Hoback, Director of Terms and Conditions May Apply

First PCLOB Meeting’s Ideas for USA PATRIOT Act; FISA Improvements May Affect Interaction with Private Industry


If you want to comment on this post, you need to login.


Board of Directors

See the esteemed group of leaders shaping the future of the IAPP.

Contact Us

Need someone to talk to? We’re here for you.

IAPP Staff

Looking for someone specific? Visit the staff directory.

Learn more about the IAPP»

Daily Dashboard

The day’s top stories from around the world

Privacy Perspectives

Where the real conversations in privacy happen

The Privacy Advisor

Original reporting and feature articles on the latest privacy developments

Privacy Tracker

Alerts and legal analysis of legislative trends

Privacy Tech

Exploring the technology of privacy

Canada Dashboard Digest

A roundup of the top Canadian privacy news

Europe Data Protection Digest

A roundup of the top European data protection news

Asia-Pacific Dashboard Digest

A roundup of the top privacy news from the Asia-Pacific region

Latin America Dashboard Digest

A roundup of the top privacy news from Latin America

IAPP Westin Research Center

Original works. Groundbreaking research. Emerging scholars.

Get more News »

Find a KnowledgeNet Chapter Near You

Network and talk privacy at IAPP KnowledgeNet meetings, taking place worldwide.

Women Leading Privacy

Events, volunteer opportunities and more designed to help you give and get career support and expand your network.

IAPP Job Board

Looking for a new challenge, or need to hire your next privacy pro? The IAPP Job Board is the answer.

Join the Privacy List

Have ideas? Need advice? Subscribe to the Privacy List. It’s crowdsourcing, with an exceptional crowd.

Find more ways to Connect »

Find a Privacy Training Class

Two-day privacy training classes are held around the world. See the complete schedule now.

Online Privacy Training

Build your knowledge. The privacy know-how you need is just a click away.

The Training Post—Can’t-Miss Training Updates

Subscribe now to get the latest alerts on training opportunities around the world.

New Web Conferences Added!

See our list of upcoming web conferences. Just log on, listen in and learn!

Train Your Staff

Get your team up to speed on privacy by bringing IAPP training to your organization.

Learn more »

CIPP Certification

The global standard for the go-to person for privacy laws, regulations and frameworks

CIPM Certification

The first and only privacy certification for professionals who manage day-to-day operations

CIPT Certification

The industry benchmark for IT professionals worldwide to validate their knowledge of privacy requirements

Certify Your Staff

Find out how you can bring the world’s only globally recognized privacy certification to a group in your organization.

Learn more about IAPP certification »

Get Close-up

Looking for tools and info on a hot topic? Our close-up pages organize it for you in one easy-to-find place.

Where's Your DPA?

Our interactive DPA locator helps you find data protection authorities and summary of law by country.

IAPP Westin Research Center

See the latest original research from the IAPP Westin fellows.

Looking for Certification Study Resources?

Find out what you need to prepare for your exams

More Resources »

GDPR Comprehensive: Spots Going Fast

With the top minds in the field leading this exceptional program, it's no wonder it's filling quickly. Register now to secure your spot.

Be Part of Something Big: Join the Summit

Registration is open for the Global Privacy Summit 2016. Discounted early bird rates available for a short time, register today!

Data Protection Intensive Returns to London

Registration is now open for the IAPP Europe Data Protection Intensive in London. Check out the program!

P.S.R. Call for Speakers Open!

P.S.R. is THE privacy + cloud security event of the year, and you can take a leading role. Propose a session for this year's program.

Sponsor an Event

Increase visibility for your organization—check out sponsorship opportunities today.

Exhibit at an Event

Put your brand in front of the largest gatherings of privacy pros in the world. Learn more.

More Conferences »

Become a Member

Start taking advantage of the many IAPP member benefits today

Corporate Members

See our list of high-profile corporate members—and find out why you should become one, too

Renew Your Membership

Don’t miss out for a minute—continue accessing your benefits

Join the IAPP»