NSA goes on declassification spree ahead of Obama reform

US National Intelligence director James Clapper has thrown open the books on hundreds of previously classified documents detailing national and international surveillance, as President Obama's scheme to reform the NSA goes into operation. The new batch of declassified files brings the total number of released documents to around 2,300 pages, DNI Clapper wrote, including orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), documents the NSA and others have previously submitted to Congress, and data about the legality of the ways in which the NSA collects telephone metadata and other programs currently operating.

That metadata has become one of the hot-button issues in surveillance, as Americans – and those outside of the US – become increasingly aware of programs that gather huge quantities of call records. Although several high-profile officials have insisted that the US takes a measured approach to both collection and analysis, leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden have painted a different picture, where collection and access are near-ubiquitous.

That, Obama said on Friday, needs to change. The President has given intelligence officials until the end of March to propose new ways to manage the database that stores the collected records. That could potentially include entrusting it to a third-party, though security experts have warned that such a move could introduce even more challenges.

Speaking in direct response to President Obama's assertions that the NSA and other intelligence agencies needed to rethink how they operated, Clapper described the stance as both measured and thoughtful.

"His reforms are focused on striking the right balance between making sure we have the tools necessary to conduct intelligence," the national intelligence chief wrote, "and ensuring that we are being as transparent as possible and abiding by protocols that protect the civil liberties and privacy of all Americans."