Civil Liberties

The NSA Is Totally Passing Around Your Sexy Selfies


Hiné Mizushima/Flickr

In an extensive new interview with The Guardian, National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden emphasized the need for "lawyers, journalists, doctors, accountants, priests," and others with a duty to protect confidentiality to ditch unencrypted communication. He also confirmed what many people have joked about since the NSA's surveillance was first revealed: Yes, agents are totally looking at and passing around your "sexually compromising" photos. 

According to Snowden, looking at O.P.P. is a "routine" part of NSA life, and one that's considered "a fringe benefit of a surveillance position." 

From the interview:

Snowden: During the course of their work, (NSA employees) stumble across something that is completely unrelated to their work in any sort of necessary sense, for example, an intimate nude photo of someone in a sexually compromising situation. But they're extremely attractive.

So what do they do? They turn around in their chair and show a coworker who says, 'Hey that's great. Send that to Bill down the way.' Then Bill sends it to George, who sends it to Tom, and sooner or later this person's whole life has been seen by all of these other people.

It's never reported. Nobody every knows about it because the auditing of these systems is incredibly weak. The fact that your private images, records of your private lives, records of your intimate moments have been taken from your private communication stream, from the intended recipient and given to the government without any specific authorization or need is a violation of your rights. 

Some Americans will freak out over this in particular, I think—and they should freak out, sure, as they should about all of the secret surveillance the NSA is doing—but it makes NSA agents look more like a bunch of frat boys than super spies. Frankly, I'm more worried about just about anything else the NSA is electronically eavesdropping on. 

Anyway, an NSA spokeswoman told Forbes that this kind of thing is, you know, totally frowned upon. "NSA is a professional foreign-intelligence organization with a highly trained workforce, including brave and dedicated men and women from our armed forces," she said. "As we have said before, the agency has zero tolerance for willful violations of the agency's authorities or professional standards."