Snowden: NSA employees share intercepted sexts


Edward Snowden livestreaming into an ACLU panel at South by Southwest earlier this year. (Livestream)

Sharing sexts sucked up by surveillance programs is seen as a "fringe benefit" for National Security Agency employees, former contractor Edward Snowden said in a video interview posted by the Guardian Thursday:

You've got young enlisted guys, 18-22 years old. They've suddenly been thrust into a position of extraordinary responsibility where they now have access to all of your private records. During the course of their daily work they stumble upon something that is completely unrelated to their work in any sort of necessary sense -- for example, an intimate nude photo of someone of in a sexually compromising situation, but they're extremely attractive. So what they do? They turn around in their chair and show their co-worker -- and their co-workers says 'hey, that's great, send it to Bill down the way.' And then Bill sends to George, George sends it to Tom, and sooner or later this person's whole life has been seen by all of these other people.

Snowden says he personally saw instances of such happening, saying "it's routine enough" although the actual frequency depended on the company one kept within the agency.

He also claimed such privacy violations went unnoticed by oversight authorities. "It's never reported, no one ever knows about it because the auditing is so weak," he said.

Snowden even used himself as an example of the weakness of NSA auditing processes. "A 29-year-old walked in and out of the NSA with all of their private records. What does that say about their auditing?"

This isn't the first time government employees have been accused to sharing intimate communications uncovered in the course of surveillance for their own amusement, as American Civil Liberties Union technologist Christopher Soghoian pointed out on Twitter:

In 2008, two former military intercept officers told ABC News that recordings of phone sex by U.S. individuals, including deployed soldiers, in the Middle East were shared among intelligence employees.

There have also been reports of NSA officers using the agency's eavesdropping powers to snoop on love interests -- a practice common enough it has its own spycraft label: LOVEINT.

Update: NSA spokesperson Vanee Vines sent the Post the following statement in response to Snowden's claims: "NSA is a professional foreign-intelligence organization with a highly trained workforce, including brave and dedicated men and women from our armed forces.  As we have said before, the agency has zero tolerance for willful violations of the agency’s authorities or professional standards, and would respond as appropriate to any credible allegations of misconduct."

 

Have more to say about this topic? We take your questions every week in our weekly livechat, Switchback, Fridays at 11 a.m. ET. The comment box is open, so submit your question now.

 

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.
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