Newly appointed National Security Agency top dog Adm. Michael Rogers told an audience at a Bloomberg cybersecurity event on Tuesday that by “choice and by chance” anonymity is a thing of the past. His agency, the spy chief said, is caught in the middle of the shifting privacy paradigm.
“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 told the crowd. ”I’m the first to admit, the idea that you can be totally anonymous in the digital age is increasingly difficult to execute.”
Rogers said that the NSA isn’t the only entity involved in track Americans attitudes and behaviors, noting that an entire industry has sprung up around data brokerage.
The Hill explained how data brokers monitor Internet activity and sell information on users to marketers in an article late last month:
The companies build the profiles based on publicly available information on social media platforms, retailers’ records of offline and online purchases made with credit and debit cards and information that consumers volunteer online, such as online surveys, warranty forms and sweepstakes entries.
The data also comes from public documents made available by federal, state and local governments, such as court records, mortgages and voter registration information.
Rogers said that, given the new privacy reality, he didn’t want Americans to permanently characterize as the 4th Amendment abrogating behemoth it was portrayed as by contractor Edward Snowden’s leaks.
“One of the things that I try to tell the workforce out there is: this is not what is going to define us,” Rogers said. “We cannot go into this hunched-down crunch. We have an important mission.”
By increasing the agency’s transparency and helping Americans better understand what the Internet age means for personal privacy, Rogers said he hopes to promote “broad dialogue of what we’re doing and why [it] is a good thing for us as a Nation.”
Rogers also vowed that his NSA wouldn’t overhype threats in an effort to expand its surveillance powers.
“Now, I’m not one who’s going to sit here and overhype the threat [or say] that in the name of this threat we have to make dramatic changes and curtail our rights, because if we go down that road, in the end, they’ve won,” he said. “If we change who we are and what we believe and what we represent in the name of security, they have won. I have always believed that.”
Rogers’ speech comes on the heels of reports that the NSA collects millions of photos and images from emails, text messages, video conferences, social media and other sources for use in a facial recognition database.
The New York Times reported Saturday:
The agency intercepts “millions of images per day” — including about 55,000 “facial recognition quality images” — which translate into “tremendous untapped potential,” according to 2011 documents obtained from the former agency contractor Edward J. Snowden. While once focused on written and oral communications, the N.S.A. now considers facial images, fingerprints and other identifiers just as important to its mission of tracking suspected terrorists and other intelligence targets, the documents show.
“It’s not just the traditional communications we’re after: It’s taking a full-arsenal approach that digitally exploits the clues a target leaves behind in their regular activities on the net to compile biographic and biometric information” that can help “implement precision targeting,” noted a 2010 document.
Welcome to the future.
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