NSA chief: Being anonymous an anachronism

The concept of total anonymity might be something of an anachronism, the head of the National Security Agency suggested Tuesday. 

Adm. Michael Rogers said anonymity is being sacrificed for technology, and his agency is caught in the tensions surrounding that shift.

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“In the world we’re living in, increasingly by choice and by chance, we are forfeiting privacy at levels that, as individuals, I don't think we truly understand,” Rogers said at an event sponsored by Bloomberg on Tuesday. 

“I’m the first to admit, the idea that you can be totally anonymous in the digital age is increasingly difficult to execute.”

The ability to completely disappear from the crowd might be a thing of the past, he said, given the ability of companies and governments to obtain vast amounts of information about people.

Rogers's comments follow a series of reports detailing the insights companies and government agencies are gaining by watching people’s habits on the Internet and offline.

Firms called “data brokers,” for instance, are able to track people’s purchases, Web browsing and other bits of information to fit them into categories like “Allergy Sufferer,” “Working Class Mom” and “Small Town Shallow Pockets.”

That information is then passed along to advertisers, who use it to market deals and bargains to specific consumers. 

That can be a boon for shoppers, according to separate analyses from the Senate Commerce Committee and the Federal Trade Commission, but it can also open people up to discrimination from companies trying to prey on vulnerabilities.

A report on “big data” out of the White House last month called for Congress to pass a slew of laws to better protect people and their information in the digital age.