Does the NSA Want to See You Naked? Snowden Says Maybe

Beto Barata/AFP/Getty Images

Beto Barata/AFP/Getty Images

Edward Snowden, former National Security Agency contractor, has been the prophet of a hefty load of government disclosures. He’s become both a champion for freedom from surveillance and government overstep as well as a fugitive from the U.S. after releasing major NSA documents to the global news media. A lot of what he’s opened up to the public has left many feeling naked, exposed — their privacy violated with powers they never realized their government had. At the end of last week,¬†The Guardian — the publication that¬†published his initial leaks — put out another interview with Snowden, and this time his discussion quite literally stripped Americans of their clothes before prying eyes.

When you’re an NSA analyst and you’re looking for raw signals intelligence, what you realize is that the majority of the communications in our databases are not the communications of targets, they’re communications of ordinary people,” said Snowden. “They’re the most deep and intense and intimate and damaging private moments of their lives, and we’re seizing [them] without any authorization.” This also means that personal data is stored, sometimes for a long time, and that material meant only for private viewing could be seen by a series of unnamed analysts shuffling through materials.

“Many of the poeple searching through the haystacks were young, enlisted guys and … 18 to 22 years old,” he explained. “In the course of their daily work, 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 the chair and show a co-worker. And their co-worker says: ‘Oh, hey, that’s great. Send that to Bill down the way.’ And then Bill sends it to George, George sends it to Tom,” and so on.

Now, does the NSA actually care to see you naked? As an institution, likely not. But as Snowden only too clearly points out, organizations are made up of individuals, and individuals have flaws that tend to grow like weeds when left untamed. Basically, he made the most extreme and ideal metaphor for the NSA’s invasion of privacy — that of being stripped nude before unseen watching eyes — a reality.