On April 21, something remarkable happened with privacy, something that received very little fanfare.
The newly created National Security Agency (NSA) Civil Liberties and Privacy Office released its first public report. The report provides an overview of the NSA’s implementation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Section 702. It has also been submitted to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board in response to their request for information as part of its review of NSA programs.
Why is this remarkable? Two reasons:
One, it is a remarkable level of transparency for how the NSA—an agency whose core culture is to maintain the strictest secrecy—implements its authority and provides explanations of privacy and civil liberties.
Two, the report itself publicly commits the NSA, a significant member of the intelligence community, to applying the Fair Information Practice Principles (FIPPs) as a baseline for privacy protections.
This second point is remarkable given the history of the FIPPs. They were first articulated in 1973 in the Health and Education and Welfare’s advisory committee’s report. The committee was established in response to growing use of automated data systems containing information about individuals in the context of administering large social programs affecting the American public. At inception, the FIPPs were focused on a particular context—that of a benefits-related agency meant to interact directly with American citizens and lawful residents.
That is a remarkable expansion from its original context.
The report will have its critics from both right and left. But imagine if you had said a year ago to a room full of privacy advocates that the NSA would have a Civil Liberties and Privacy Office and that it would issue a public report applying the FIPPs to the NSA. You might have been laughed out of the room.
The NSA’s report publicly commits to a framework for future accountability and oversight of privacy and civil liberties protections. This is a long journey but it is at least a first step—and a big one at that.
If you want to comment on this post, you need to login.