6 March 2014
Ex-NSA Official Warns Tech Firms: Stop Spying
Pros and Cons of Big Data Spying
Ex-NSA Official Inglis Warns Tech Firms: Be Transparent
March 5, 2014
Companies That Amass Vast Amounts of Personal Data Should Learn From Agency's
Mistakes, He Says
Former NSA deputy director John C. Inglis says tech companies that amass
vast amounts of personal information should learn from his agency's mistakes.
By Danny Yadron
SAN FRANCISCOTo a degree shared by few, John C. Inglis knows the risks
of collecting a lot of data on people.
Until January, Mr. Inglis, who goes by Chris, was the number-two
official at the National Security Agency. He spent much of 2013 pushing back
against disclosures from former contractor Edward Snowden about the extent
of NSA surveillance.
Now, the former NSA deputy director is warning technology companies that
amass vast amounts of personal information to learn from his agencys
mistakes. Be transparent about what they collect, and why they collect it,
Mr. Inglis said last week from the vendor floor of a cybersecurity conference
Theres an enormous amount of data held in the private sector,
Mr. Inglis said, in his first published interview since leaving government.
There might be some concerns not just on the part of the American public,
but the international public.
Mr. Ingliss comments underscore tension between Washington and Silicon
Valley about collecting, storing and using information about Americans.
Since the Snowden disclosures, technology executives have criticized the
NSAs data-collection practices, as well as restrictions on what they
can say about government requests for information. Now, some executives believe
Mr. Inglis and other government officials are trying to deflect attention
from the NSAs practices by pointing fingers at tech companies.
Monday, White House counselor John Podesta told a conference at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology that national security is not the only space
where technological change is challenging traditional conceptions of
privacy. He cited a revolution in the way that information about
our purchases, our conversations, our social networks, our movements, and
even our physical identities are collected, stored, analyzed and used.
It has prompted complaints from officials at major tech companies and some
of their investors. A spy agency is a taller order for consumers to
deal with than Google or Facebook, said Ted Schlein, a partner at
venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers who invests in
Google Inc., Facebook Inc. and other tech firms make money by recording and
selling detailed bits of information on Web users. They typically disclose
their data-collection policies in long legal statements. And in theory, customers
can take their business elsewhere if they dont like the policies.
But few people read the fine print, just as few people watched C-Span when
Congress codified some of the NSAs snooping abilities in 2008, Mr.
Civil-liberties groups that have been critical of both tech companies and
the government also question the comparison. Its certainly the
case that companies collect too much data, said Christopher Soghoian,
a technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union. But that in no
way gives the NSA a free pass in regard to what theyre doing.
Mr. Inglis was a government employee since graduating from the U.S. Air Force
Academy in 1976. He still lives near Washington, D.C., and is debating whether
to become an adviser to private sector technology companies. Last week, he
gave a paid, private speech at a cybersecurity conference for Securonix Inc.,
a computer-security company.
Mr. Inglis says the Snowden episode, which he refers to only as May
2013, taught him a few things. Before then, he assumed that Americans
believed there are enough checks and balances in place to protect them.
Of course, thats not the way the story played out, he says.
As others told the story, they chose to emphasize components of that
story, which, in my view, were not always correct. We spent a lot of time
This may have been prevented, he says, if NSA officials had spent more time
educating the public about the types of data they collect beforehand. By
Mr. Ingliss logic, the same applies to tech companies who market personal
An NSA spokeswoman wouldnt comment on Mr. Ingliss remarks on
government transparency, but noted that his successor, Rick Ledgett, made
similar remarks in a recent interview with the Washington Post.
These companies at least have a public relations issue, if not a moral
obligation, to really make sure you understand that this is to your
benefit, Mr. Inglis said. As an individual, myself, I continue
to be surprised by the kinds of insights companies have about me.
Write to Danny Yadron at email@example.com