Jeffrey Rosen for New Republic: "Metadata Material Shouldn’t be Held by the Government"

December 22nd, 2013

New Republic
by Jeffrey Rosen
December 22, 2013

On December 20, the day after the President’s Review Group on Communications and Intelligence Technologies issued its recommendations for reform of American surveillance policies, The New Republic’s legal affairs editor, Jeffrey Rosen, interviewed Cass Sunstein, a member of the Review Group as well a contributing editor to the magazine, about the recommendations in the report.

An edited transcript of their conversations follows.

JR: Let’s run through the major recommendations, which you summarized in The New York Times yesterday. Tell us about the first recommendation: that the government should stop storing bulk telephone metadata for domestic surveillance, and the data should be held by private third parties and only accessible by a court order.

CS: The idea is that for the government to hold metadata of that magnitude creates risks to public trust, privacy and civil liberties. The risks shouldn’t be overstated. We didn’t find that government is trying to snoop on political dissenters or trying to go after people’s private lives, but there are risks in government ownership of such material through storage. The question is whether those risks are justified by national security needs, and our conclusion is they aren’t. You can have a more standard process by which the government doesn’t store otherwise private data but still has access by a showing of need. We think that transition to a more standard procedure– the data is held privately and the government has access only by a showing of need – strikes a better balance between privacy and security.

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