NSA gains a civil liberties and privacy officer: reports

In the coming years, the definition of "difficult" may include the task facing the incoming privacy officer for the NSA.

Dragnets , datacentre tapping , secret courts , and beam weapons . These are but a few of the actions conducted by the United States' National Security Agency (NSA) and its Five Eyes cohorts, thanks to the documents leaked to journalists by Edward Snowden.

Yet, here we are, at the turning of the tide, as Lawfare reports that the NSA has appointed its first civil liberties and privacy officer (CLPO).

The blog, run by Paul Rosenzweig, former deputy assistant secretary for policy in the Department of Homeland Security, says that the new hire, Rebecca "Becky" Richards of the Homeland Security Privacy Office, will start next month.

A posting for the job appeared in September, with the new role set to be the primary adviser to the director of the NSA for "ensuring that privacy is protected and civil liberties are maintained by all of NSA's missions, programs, policies, and technologies".

The posting also said that the CLPO would be "focused on the future" and ensure that "protections continue to be baked into NSA's future operations, technologies, tradecraft, and policies".

Read this

AT&T: We don't have to disclose any NSA co-operation, not even to shareholders

The cellular giant says any such co-operation with the U.S. government in its mass surveillance operations would almost certainly be classified, despite concerns from shareholders.

Read More

If you think one person inside a national intelligence organisation can do all those things, then don't worry; just sit back and let the surveillance wash over you.

Richards has an unenviable task of being the civil liberties figurehead for the agency and representing the NSA on matters of privacy in front of congressional committees.

In his State of the Union address earlier today, President Barack Obama said that US intelligence systems depend on the public's confidence that privacy rights are not being violated either at home or abroad.

Obama only briefly mentioned one of the biggest controversies that has gripped his administration over the past year. He repeated his pledge to overhaul US surveillance programs in cooperation with Congress.

Lawmakers are divided over how far to roll back the NSA's programs that collect billions of telephone and internet records from across the US and the rest of the world every day.

The latest revelation from the Snowden documents detailed how the NSA and the UK GCHQ used a range of tools dubbed "The Smurfs" , to tap "leaky" apps to determine a person's age and location, and in some cases even their sexual orientation and political views.

Earlier in the day, Britain's Foreign Office announced that the head of the GCHQ, Iain Lobban, will leave the agency later this year after serving nearly six years as director.

It was denied that his departure was related to revelations contained in Snowden's leaked documents that GCHQ was one of the main players in mass telecommunications surveillance.

"Today is simply about starting the process of ensuring we have a suitable successor in place before he moves on as planned at the end of the year," a Foreign Office spokesman said on Tuesday.

According to the leaked documents, the GCHQ is at the heart of Britain's "special relationship" with the United States when it comes to spying, with the documents claiming the NSA secretly funded GCHQ to the tune of £100 million over the past three years.

One of Snowden's revelations was that Britain is running a secret internet monitoring station in the Middle East, intercepting phone calls and online traffic, with the information processed and passed to GCHQ.

It also tapped into more than 200 fibre-optic telecommunications cables, including transatlantic ones, and was handling 600 million "telephone events" each day, according to the Snowden documents.

Called to appear before a parliamentary committee last November in response to the Snowden leaks, Lobban insisted that the agency was not conducting mass snooping on the British public.

It was the first time a head of the agency had given evidence in public.