US panel calls for more oversight of spy agencies

US panel calls for more oversight of spy agencies
Edward Snowden, a former contractor at the National Security Agency (NSA), is seen during news broadcast on a screen at a shopping mall in Hong Kong on in this file photo taken on June 16, 2013.

INDEPENDENT advisers tasked with reviewing US spying practices are calling for more oversight from senior policymakers when it comes to whether to eavesdrop on foreign leaders.

The Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies released a report on Wednesday recommending 46 changes that seek to rein in the powers of US intelligence agencies.

Of particular interest to those outside the US - where leaked information on US spying has caused a furore as far away as Europe and South-east Asia - will be the handful of suggestions about what the group calls "sensitive intelligence requirements".

On this front, the panel wants a new process that would require "highest-level approval" for any surveillance of foreign leaders, without specifying who the approval should come from. It also calls for the setting up of a small office to red-flag sensitive spying activities for review by senior officials, and to extend privacy protections for Americans to foreigners.

"Any decision to engage in surveillance of the leaders of a foreign nation must be taken with great care. For a variety of reasons, the stakes in such decisions can be quite high," said the report.

It noted that, thus far, intelligence officers had been given too much leeway in the conduct of surveillance: "Intelligence collection managers may not always be aware that what they are doing or planning might fall into a category that makes it sensitive in the eyes of policymakers."

The panel thus suggests that the small office be staffed not just by intelligence officers but also by policymakers and representatives involved in the Treasury, trade and commerce.

It also sought to make clear on what grounds decisions to eavesdrop on foreign leaders should be endorsed. These include deliberations over whether the surveillance is necessary for national security, the relationship the US has with the country and what the fallout would be should the foreign country discover the spying.

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