NSA Gets Its First Civil Liberties and Privacy Officer

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Rebecca Richards has been appointed to a new post that ensures 'privacy is protected and civil liberties are maintained by all of NSA's missions.' By Dustin Volz

The National Security Agency has tapped a senior official within the Homeland Security Department to serve as its inaugural civil-liberties and privacy officer, NSA chief Keith Alexander announced Wednesday.

Rebecca Richards worked as the director of privacy compliance at DHS and has been with the department since 2004, according to her LinkedIn page. In her role she will “serve as the primary adviser to the Director of NSA for ensuring that privacy is protected and civil liberties are maintained by all of NSA’s missions, programs, policies and technologies,” according to the agency’s official job listing posted in September.

After a rigorous and lengthy interview process, I’ve selected an expert whose background will bring additional perspectives and insight to our foreign intelligence activities,” Alexander said in a statement. “She will report directly to me and will advise me and our senior leadership team to ensure privacy and civil-liberties considerations remain a vital driver for all our strategic decisions, particularly in the areas of technology and processes.”

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Some privacy and civil-liberties groups lambasted the NSA when it first announced the position—billed as a “completely new role” within the agency—several months after former contractor Edward Snowden began leaking documents exposing intimate details of the agency’s surveillance capabilities. Some remain skeptical that an officer housed within the NSA will be able to provide much real oversight on privacy matters.

Jeramie Scott, an attorney with the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said filling the position was “a positive step” for those clamoring for NSA reforms.

But he cautioned that Richards must “provide as much transparency as possible to the public regarding her ability to perform oversight and implement effective privacy protections” at the NSA, Scott said.

Obviously, it’ll be a very tough job,” added Lee Tien, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “Imagine all the technology you’d need to be on top of in order to even understand how the NSA’s operations affect people’s privacy.”

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