The National Security Agency has appointed its first transparency officer — three years after leaks made by former contractor Edward Snowden exposed the agency’s surveillance programs and led to calls for increased public disclosures.
Rebecca Richards, who already serves as director of the NSA’s Civil Liberties and Privacy, will take on the dual role as the agency’s transparency officer.
A brief NSA announcement of the appointment states that the dual role “complements ongoing initiatives to ensure that NSA has the best civil liberties and privacy practices.” Officials did not immediately respond to questions regarding why a stand-alone position was not created.
As the NSA transparency officer, Ms. Richards will serve on the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s Intelligence Transparency Council, which the NSA describes as a forum meant to develop and coordinate transparency measures.
The NSA and the ODNI have released a handful of transparency reports since 2014. The most recent report from the NSA was released in January, and outlined the specific procedures adopted by the attorney general and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in an effort to protect privacy rights.
A 2014 report from ODNI disclosed that U.S. intelligence agencies targeted the electronic communications of close to 90,000 foreign people, groups or organizations using authority under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The law permits the NSA to intercept the communications of foreigners believed to be located outside the United States without individualized warrants.
But U.S. lawmakers and privacy rights groups were critical of the report, saying it failed to provide information about the total number of people who were affected by the surveillance as well as how many Americans had their communications intercepted through the programs.
The NSA statement about the new transparency officer role characterizes the move as part of the ODNI’s new goal to make “information publicly available in a way that enhances understanding of intelligence activities, while continuing to protect information when disclosure would harm national security.”
In addition to serving as the NSA’s first transparency officer, Ms. Richards was also its first director of Civil Liberties and Privacy. She was appointed to the role in 2014. Prior to that, Ms. Richards worked for 10 years in privacy compliance in the Department of Homeland Security.