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NSA Privacy Director says fears of government spying are unwarranted

Sean Buckley, @seaniccus
November 24, 2014
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It was one of the final questions of the NSA's open Q&A today, and one that's weighed heavily on the minds of American citizens since the Prism scandal last year: "Are our fears of being discreetly spied on merited?" They aren't, according to NSA Civil Liberties and Privacy Director Rebecca Richards . "NSA is a foreign intelligence agency," she explained. "Our mission is to collect critical intelligence on foreign powers or their agents necessary to defend the country." The response is almost dismissive, but technically correct: the NSA isn't supposed to keep tabs on domestic threats, that's the FBI's job. That said, Richards did admit that some intelligence collection against US citizens is unavoidable. "For example, a foreign intelligence target may communicate with or about a U.S. Person," she explained. "NSA's minimization procedures have been designed to account for this possibility and other cases where NSA may incidentally acquire U.S. Person information."

The response was far from a revelation, but it did serve as a more personal delivery of the NSA's standard transparency reports. That, Richards explained, is kind of the point. "Until somewhat recently, relatively little information about NSA was public," she explained. "One of my goals is to share what NSA does to protect civil liberties and privacy. This will take time, but we must start somewhere... ...we have to start somewhere to begin to rebuild that trust." Over the course of the Q&A Richards touched on the importance of protecting privacy, providing greater transparency and even addressed the accusations that NSA employees steal and share nude photos of suspects. "There have been very limited cases of intentional misuse by a handful of individuals," she said. "These have been investigated by NSA's Inspector General and reported to Congress." It's not a lot, but it is something.

If the tone of the Q&A's questions are any indication, it'll be awhile before the public is ready to trust the NSA again, but Richards is optimistic about the future. "The fact that the NSA created my job highlights the value and importance NSA leadership places on privacy and civil liberties protections." The session didn't last long (nor did it reveal anything particularly interesting), but Richards hopes to use Tumblr for more Q&As in the future. Want to read this one? Click on through to the source link and scroll down.

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