Privacy chief for NSA: 'This is a real job'

One of the toughest tasks for the top privacy official at the National Security Agency (NSA) might be convincing the public to take her seriously.

Rebecca Richards, who took over as the spy agency’s first ever civil liberties and privacy director in February, took to Tumblr on Monday to answer questions about the agency’s regard for privacy and civil liberties. 

ADVERTISEMENT
The first question: “Is ‘NSA Civil Liberties and Privacy Director’ a real position or is this all a joke?”

Richards responded that she is real, “and this is a real job.”

“My job is to lead the integration of civil liberties and privacy protections across the NSA and strengthen transparency,” added Richards, a former official in the Department of Homeland Security’s privacy office.

The spy agency, she responded to other questions, is watched by an “extensive” oversight system that ensures all of its programs fall within the confines of the Constitution.

Her position was created in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA last year, as a way to help rebuild public support for the intelligence agency.

“Protection of civil liberties and privacy must coexist with national security,” Richards said.

Richards spends about a third of her time outside the agency, she said, meeting with other government officials, Capitol Hill staffers and outside experts. The rest of her days are spent looking at agency activities and trying to adjust them to avoid any potential “high risk” impacts to privacy or civil liberties.

Additionally, Richards announced that the agency is working on an internship program focused on privacy and civil liberties issues.

Still, many questioners seemed skeptical of the spy agency's commitment to civil liberties, underscoring a lingering public distrust of the agency more than a year after Snowden’s leaks sent shockwaves around the globe.

Richards's decision to answer questions publicly might not have helped change that perception — most answers hewed close to the agency's previous statements about its programs. 

The public session took place less than a week after the Senate blocked legislation to rein in the agency by ending its ability to collect Americans’ phone records in bulk and allow for more transparency, among other changes.