Privacy is in our blood, says NSA official

Civil liberties are a top concern at the National Security Agency (NSA), the agency’s new privacy chief said Thursday.

“In their blood is [the] protection of your privacy,” Rebecca Richards said Thursday, speaking at a privacy conference hosted by the International Association of Privacy Professionals.

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Richards has been the NSA’s privacy and civil liberties officer for a little over a month. The creation of the position was announced last year, as the Obama administration responded to a series of controversial revelations about sweeping U.S. government surveillance.

Richards said that her agency is “very compliant” with its own internal privacy protections, along with the safeguards set by policymakers and the courts.

“They have a set of rules and they have a very strong culture of compliance,” she said. 

Under Richards’s direction, the NSA is working on a report to document the privacy protections it enforces under each of its surveillance authorities, including Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows for the collection of phone call data.

Richards said her next focus will be incorporating privacy protections into the ways the agency collects information and uses new technology.

The agency should “build the concept of the [privacy] assessments into the core of what the NSA does,” she said.

As the agency’s new privacy officer, Richards said she will bring transparency to an agency that has traditionally needed to shroud itself in secrecy.

“A lot of my job will be translating from NSA-speak to public-speak,” she said.

The NSA is “learning how to talk about all the things that they do ... in a way that people understand,” she said.