North Texans got to ask an official from the National Security Agency questions about privacy last night. In part, thanks to Edward Snowden. Since the former NSA contractor began leaking classified documents showing the agency’s vast reach, officials have been trying to make their case to the public. Tuesday night the director of compliance at NSA, John DeLong visited SMU.
This is John DeLong’s first visit to Texas on business – his grandparents are actually from Beaumont – and he received a warm welcome at SMU.
DeLong came to Dallas for a public conversation on the agency – and to defend the NSA. He says the negative headlines about a lack of controls and oversight are inaccurate –that the agency has been beefing up its self-surveillance over the past few years.
“We’ve actually quadrupled the number folks working in compliance,” he said, “to over 300 people. I don’t think people understand that. “This is serious oversight.”
Just this week, the NSA declassified hundreds of pages of documents, including a judge’s ruling that the government repeatedly exceeded its authority for collecting metadata from Americans’ emails.
That worries 28-year-old Ashley Carlisle. She came to ask the question on many Americans minds:
“What do you know about me?”
And while Carlisle didn’t find that out exactly, she says the conversation did shed some light on how the agency goes about obtaining a warrant to get more information on an individual.
“But I’d like to know more about it,” she says. “Hopefully they’ll have more debates like this.”
The NSA Goes Public
John Delong reassured the audience there will be more open conversations, and that the agency won’t just stand by until the controversy subsides.
“The confidence of the American people is very important to us,” he said. “We have lived in a world of secrecy. And we’re trying to get a lot more information out.”
DeLong points to a new website called IC On The Record, which features declassified surveillance documents, and says the agency is also working on an annual report to release to the public.
Finally, DeLong promised you’ll see more “NSAers” at open events like this one. The hope is that giving a human face to the agency will make it easier to trust.