3 reasonable criticisms of the NSA

(Image credit: (Nicolas Armer/dpa/Corbis))

I've become what's known in the business as an NSA defender or, if you please, a tool of the surveillance empire. I think the body of my writing would suggest something different, but hey — people read what they want to anyway. As I was re-reading a bunch of critical commentary about the latest story by The Washington Post, several points made by the NSA's detractors are worth highlighting because they are reasonable and quite legitimate.

1. The NSA wants to store everything it collects for a long time just in case it needs to go back and re-analyze something it missed. That's reasonable. But it's not critical. And the balance should tilt in the direction of getting rid of irrelevant communication and SIGINT as quickly as possible, especially those transactions that might contain unminimized domestic selectors — because they are unminimized domestic selectors. Give the NSA a reasonable amount of time to keep the data, then force them to purge it. Six months is reasonable. Five years isn't. And require the analyst who wants to go back into the data to recertify the foreign intelligence purpose and foreignness of the target before letting him or her do that. Subject the certifications to audits. Have Congress look at the audits.

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Marc Ambinder

Marc Ambinder is TheWeek.com's editor-at-large. He is the author, with D.B. Grady, of The Command and Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry. Marc is also a contributing editor for The Atlantic and GQ. Formerly, he served as White House correspondent for National Journal, chief political consultant for CBS News, and politics editor at The Atlantic. Marc is a 2001 graduate of Harvard. He is married to Michael Park, a corporate strategy consultant, and lives in Los Angeles.