Report: NSA and tech companies both frustrated by public misunderstanding

By End the Lie

(Image credit: Ryan Somma/Flickr)

(Image credit: Ryan Somma/Flickr)

A new in-depth report reveals that National Security Agency (NSA) officials are incredibly frustrated by the public’s perception of their activities, a sentiment shared by individuals in the tech industry as well.

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When Americans think that NSA agents are trying to steal their privacy, it “makes them crazy,” according to the lengthy article published in Wired.

“It’s almost delusional,” said Rick Ledgett, a deputy director at the NSA who heads the agency’s Media Leaks Task Force. “I wish I could get to the high mountaintop to scream, ‘You’re not a target!’”

Wired notes that Ledgett’s position was “created last summer for Snowden damage control.”

Gen. Keith Alexander, the director of the NSA, expressed similar sentiments.

Alexander said that he is concerned that many would want to get rid of the Prism program without knowing the facts.

The elimination of the Prism program, which he called a “hornet’s nest,” would do more harm than good, according to Alexander.

“We would like to give it [the Prism program] to somebody else, anybody else,” he said. “But we recognize that if we do that, our nation now is at greater risk for a terrorist attack. So we’re going to do the right thing; we’re going to hold on to it, let people look at the options. If there is a better option, put it on the table.”

Ledgett said that no one even understands how the NSA works.

“It’s always been a black box, Enemy of the State movies, stuff like that,” Ledgett said. “People don’t understand the NSA’s checks and balances.”

Similarly, individuals from tech companies expressed a degree of exasperation with the situation.

“We had 90 minutes to respond,” said Joe Sullivan, Facebook’s head of security, speaking of the amount of time given by The Washington Post to respond to the Prism story.

“Similar panicked conversations were taking place at Google, Apple, and Microsoft,” according to Steven Levy, the author of the Wired piece.

“The tech companies quickly issued denials that they had granted the US govern­ment direct access to their customers’ data,” Levy wrote. “But that stance was complicated by the fact that they did participate—often unwillingly—in a government program that required them to share data when a secret court ordered them to do so.”

The fact that the companies were prevented from talking about everything they knew in public and their own ignorance of the details of the programs led to response that were not seen as intended, according to Levy.

“We can put out any statement or statistics, but in the wake of what feels like weekly disclosures of other government activity, the question is, will anyone believe us?” said Michael Buckley, Facebook’s global communications head.

“Every time we spoke it seemed to make matters worse,” an executive at one unnamed company said to Levy. “We just were not believed.”

On the other hand, some telecommunications companies didn’t seem to be all that concerned with maintaining the trust of consumers.

“Verizon has never denied passing along its key billing information, including the number and duration of every call made by each of its millions of customers,” Levy said, referring to the first of Edward Snowden’s leaks.

Ultimately, the NSA doesn’t apparently see any of the fallout as problematic or a reason to stop mass harvesting data.

“They chalk all of that negativity up to monumental misunderstandings triggered by a lone leaker and a hostile press,” Levy writes.

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One Response to Report: NSA and tech companies both frustrated by public misunderstanding

  1. David Lightbalance January 27, 2014 at 7:29 AM

    There is no misunderstanding on my part. I see it crystal clear. Just look at the history of monitoring and collecting data of innocent citizens, and you’ll find that it’s been used as a tool for coercion and control, not security. Granted, their may be a few well-intended people doing it today, but history shows eventually it is turned contorted back inward. Most importantly, spelled out in the 4th Amendment, it is clearly unconstitutional. Once trust is lost, it can never be regained and THAT is want they are really worried about. It is their misunderstanding; not mine.

    Reply

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