President Barack Obama's promise of greater transparency and oversight of the government's pervasive electronic surveillance programs is a necessary but insufficient response to the revelations of domestic spying roiling the nation.
Obama yesterday signed an order directing James Clapper, director of national intelligence, to step out of the shadows and let a panel of experts review how the government can maintain the public's confidence and trust, as well as the integrity of our foreign policy. Those findings, due by the end of the year, could prove valuable, but they're just tinkering on the margins.
The administration should be more open about the National Security Agency's blanket collection of phone records and select monitoring of email, social networks and other online communications in the battle against terrorism. Recently released documents laying out the NSA's mission and a legal justification for the surveillance are small steps.
The question teed up by the classified documents that NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked is whether the public finds it acceptable for the government to collect records of potentially every phone call made in the United States, including the numbers called from and to, and the time, date and duration, though not the content, of each call.
Obama said he supports proposals to allow a lawyer to appear in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court's secret proceedings to oppose the government when it seeks approval for broad surveillance programs that threaten Americans' privacy. Currently the court hears only from the U.S. Justice Department and intelligence officials.
But Obama defended the NSA surveillance on Friday and hasn't sought to curtail it one whit. It's time to find out whether an informed public believes this unprecedented invasion of privacy is an acceptable trade-off in the war on terror.