Privacy, Technology and National Security.

Author:Sempa, Francis P.

Privacy, Technology and National Security

By Robert S. Litt, General Counsel, Office of the Director of National Intelligence


In a recent speech at the Brookings Institution, Robert Litt provided a detailed overview of the law related to the collection of foreign intelligence by the United States government. He stated that the current legal regime in this area provides a balance that protects both privacy and the nation's security.

Litt focused his remarks on two areas of intelligence collection: the bulk collection of telephone metadata and PRISM. He emphasized that the government's foreign intelligence activities related to these areas is authorized by Congress and subject to oversight by Executive branch officials, congressional committees, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court.

His speech was divided into three parts. First he discussed the laws that govern intelligence collection. Second, he reviewed the impact of changing technologies on intelligence collection efforts. Third, he analyzed how the legal regime and technology changes play out in practice.

The President, Litt pointed out, has extensive responsibility over foreign policy matters by virtue of his Article II powers under the Constitution. Congress has legislated in the area in such laws as the National Security Act, the electronic Communications Privacy Act, the Protect Act, the Patriot Act, and FISA. The Executive Branch has issued relevant Executive Orders. The judicial branch exercises oversight with the FISA Court.

Litt believes that this legal regime has provided a "framework that establishes appropriate controls over what the government can do with the information it lawfully collects, and appropriate oversight ..." This provides, he believes, the necessary balance to protect privacy while enabling the government...

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