Big Brother, Can You Hear Me Now?

NSA Office of Public Affairs

If you’re familiar with the classic tale, Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell, late breaking news stories of the past few days might have you asking, “What is the National Security Agency and why is the NSA collecting data about my telephone activity”? Self-centered egomaniacs might ask, “Who is Big Brother and what can he do for me”? Let’s answer some of these questions.

The National Security Agency/Central Security Service (NSA/CSS) is responsible for leading the U.S. Government in cryptology that encompasses both Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) and Information Assurance (IA) products and services. It also enables Computer Network Operations (CNO) in order to gain a decision advantage for the Nation and our allies under all circumstances. The vision of the NSA/CSS is to gain global cryptologic dominance through responsive presence and network advantage.

The NSA/CSS was created by Executive Order 12333 in December 1981, during President Reagan‘s administration. EO 12333 was amended on January 23, 2003, August 27, 2004, and further amended on July 30, 2008 by President George W. Bush. The July 2008 amendment:

➢ Aligns EO12333 with the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004;

➢ Implements additional recommendations of the 9/11 and Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Commissions;

➢ Further integrates the Intelligence Community and clarifies and strengthens the role of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) as the head of the Community; and

➢ Maintains or strengthens privacy and civil liberties protections.

You would be correct in assuming that people who work for the NSA/CSS are in the security business; the high tech global security business for United States of America. You receive bonus points if you keep the NSA/CSS’ security team in a category wholly unrelated to the security team at your local mall, the local police force, and the local special weapons and tactics (SWAT) team. You would not collect $200.00 and pass go if you think your telephone activity is not related to the NSA/CSS’ mission. And, you might go to jail if your telephone activity is found to be surreptitious.

Via a smart phone, and without uttering a word to Siri, someone can open a garage door, change channels on a television, turn lights on and off at home, remotely start a car, and perhaps remotely activate a bomb or other weapon of mass destruction. Remote activation can create a national security risk. The NSA/CSS is tasked with collecting, processing, and disseminating intelligence information from all sources, including telephones, to thwart such risks.

NSA/CSS also has the formidable challenge of preventing foreign adversaries from gaining access to sensitive or classified national security information. It attempts to defeat terrorists and their organizations at home and abroad, consistent with U.S. laws and the protection of privacy and civil liberties.

Reconciling NSA/CSS’ actions with U.S. laws, as well as privacy and civil liberties, rests with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. The Board was established by Congress and is an independent agency within the executive branch. It advises the President of the United States and other senior executive branch officials to ensure that privacy and civil liberties are considered in the development and implementation of all laws, regulations, and policies related to national security and homeland security functions.

The NSA/CSS is committed protecting national security interests by adhering to the highest standards of behavior. However, balancing national security interests with privacy and civil liberties has proven to be a tough task to manage post September 11, 2001.

Whether you fear the society that George Orwell described in Nineteen Eighty-Four, where everyone is under complete surveillance by authorities with questionable motives; or regret not feverishly opposing Big Brother’s slippery stroll over your privacy and civil liberties with big data, Big Brother is here to ensure that fear and regret do not rob us of our lives.