The Snowden revelations have had a significant impact on trust in the government, international relations and how we view privacy. On December 18, a Presidential Commission released a report that was created to review the government surveillance program in the aftermath of the Snowden disclosures. The report, Liberty and Security in a Changing World, clearly identified the goals it sought to achieve:

our recommendations are designed to protect our national security and advance our foreign policy while also respecting our longstanding commitment to privacy and civil liberties, recognizing our need to maintain the public trust (including the trust of our friends and allies abroad), and reducing the risk of unauthorized disclosures.

The report contains 46 recommendations regarding changes to the government surveillance program, a list of which would be beyond the scope of this article, but there are several key recommendations that are important to consider. In broad terms, the report: recommends principles; examines the history of these issues; explores what reforms should be considered for foreign intelligence surveillance that is directed to U.S. persons; considers what reforms should be considered for foreign intelligence surveillance that is directed to non-U.S. persons; examines what intelligence should be gathered and how it should be collected (including how we cooperate with our allies); structural reforms; how to promote prosperity, security and openness in light of the technological issues we face in a “networked” world, and how to protect what intelligence we collect.

This report obviously was commissioned after the Snowden revelations and the resulting reactions both in the U.S. and abroad, but the commission was clear that while this was the impetus, the focus of the report was broader and it addresses the creation of sturdy foundations for the future to safeguard liberty and security in a rapidly changing world. In order to fully address these issues, the report identified several goals, some of which, it noted, were competing:

  • protecting the nation against threats to our national security;
  • promoting other national security and foreign policy interests;
  • protecting the right to privacy;
  • protecting democracy, civil liberties and the rule of law;
  • promoting prosperity, security and openness in a networked world, and
  • protecting strategic alliances.

Research from the Lares Institute supports the report’s identification of these as key issues, as well as the competitive nature of the goals, which is also reflected in the views people have regarding Snowden. This research also supports the balance the report seeks to achieve—which is protecting privacy and increasing transparency while simultaneously continuing to protect national security.

In an Internet survey of over 470 U.S. residents, respondents were asked which of the following statements they agreed with about Snowden. (The margin of error for this study was five percent at a 95-percent confidence level.) The responses were as follows:

It is also important to note individuals’ views regarding the surveillance program when assessing the report and its recommendations, and the sometimes competing nature of these goals. When they were asked about government surveillance, and whether they agree with the following statements, respondents stated as follows:

What is clear from this data is that privacy is important; congressional oversight is seen as lacking, but overall, protecting national security is seen as an important issue for many Americans.

To further illustrate the issues the government must solve, it is helpful to examine the trust impact of the Snowden revelations. Prior to the Snowden revelations, the Lares Institute conducted a survey (same margin of error and confidence level as that above) that asked who individuals trusted more with their privacy—the public or private sector. This data is reflected in the red columns below, and this question was resurveyed post-Snowden, which is reflected in the orange column on the chart. This illustrates the trust gap that the government must address, and it is helpful to have this context when assessing the report’s recommendations. 

There has been a significant loss of trust in the government, and while people are generally accepting of surveillance, they would like a deeper understanding of the privacy protections that are in place, and likely would want to see more effective Congressional oversight. 

This backdrop is helpful in examining the key recommendations of the report, which include:

  • Limiting surveillance on foreign leaders to situations where the president or his advisors approve it;
  • Splitting control of the NSA from the military (a suggestion that has already been rejected);
  • Having the metadata stored by the private sector rather than the NSA;
  • Increasing the application of the Privacy Act to foreign nationals in certain circumstances;
  • Limiting the use of National Security Letters by the FBI, and
  • Requiring specific FISA Court approval of queries rather than the current system of operating under a blanket order.

There are a number of other recommendations but these are among the most important, and these should be assessed against the research referenced above. Whether these changes will occur, including the requirement that the metadata be retained by the private sector, changes that would make our system more akin to the European requirements of data retention, remain to be seen, but in any case the report offers a starting point for continued, informed debate in this country.

The Lares Institute will release a more detailed white paper on its research.

Written By



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»