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Denver Post: President Obama offers half loaf on spying

| The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published Jan 20 2014 03:32 pm • Last Updated Jan 20 2014 03:32 pm

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President Obama, it seems, has been sufficiently chastened by public outcry over his administration’s national security tactics that he announced some significant reforms on Friday.

Unfortunately, the scope of change fell far short of what is needed, and he left some important pieces up to a Congress more given to bickering than policy making.

We wish he would have adopted in full the surprisingly aggressive recommendations of a panel of five intelligence and legal experts the president had asked to examine this nation’s spy tactics.

Instead, we are left with half a loaf.

The most significant change the president announced Friday was that the National Security Agency would no longer control a vast trove of telephone data the government collects on private phone calls.

It would be held by a third party — to be named by Congress — and intelligence agencies would need a court order to access it.

That’s a positive step, with the exception of counting on Congress to get anything done.

But the president also should have set a court order requirement before public officials use what are called " national security letters" to get what is arguably more revealing private information. That includes bank and phone records, credit card data and information about Internet use.

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The one bright spot where national security letters are concerned is that the new rules will force the government to eventually reveal having used them, and the report will include the type of information sought. That’s a positive development.

The president also said the changes he outlined in a speech Friday likely would lead to others in the future, which leaves the door open for further refinement. Another positive.

These improvements, although needed, only have the potential to bring incremental change to a national security behemoth that has grown beyond what Americans should tolerate.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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