NSA Doesn’t Scoop Up Facial Recognition info on US Citizens – On Purpose

Adm. Michael Rogers, commander of US Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency, speaks during a cyber security summit, June 3. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Adm. Michael Rogers, commander of US Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency, speaks during a cyber security summit, June 3. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The head of the National Security Agency insisted today that contrary to recent reports, his organization does not collect facial recognition data on US citizens – on purpose.

“We do not do this in some unilateral basis against US citizens,” insisted Adm. Michael Rogers. “We have very specific restrictions when it comes to US persons.”

But he admitted that “clearly in the digital age we will encounter US persons in the wilderness, if you will,” he said before acknowledging that the NSA has “specific restrictions on what happens once we do encounter them. In broad terms we’ve got to stop what we’re doing. We have to assess the situation, we have to get a legal authority or justification” in order to continue to monitor any American individual.

Speaking at a Bloomberg conference in Washington DC on Tuesday morning, Rogers did confirm that “we use facial recognition as a tool” along with “our signal intelligence capabilities to help enable our broader efforts to conduct intelligence.”

Documents leaked by former Booz Allen employee and NSA contractor Edward Snowden reveal that the agency scoops up “millions of images per day” to include about 55,000 “facial recognition quality images” according to a New York Times story published on June 1.

Rogers has been at the helm of the spy agency for less than two months, and takes over at a time of turmoil for the NSA as a steady stream of revelations continues to drip out from the tens of thousands of classified documents that Snowden secreted out.

Rogers is attempting to meet the criticism head on, saying on Tuesday that “the idea that you can be totally anonymous in the digital age is increasingly difficult to execute. We have framed this debate much too narrow from my perspective. This is much bigger than the National Security Agency.”

While the collection of staggering amounts of data from private citizens around the globe has sparked outrage across the board form foreign governments to the business community to private groups and members of Congress, Rogers insisted that everything the NSA has done falls within the outlines of the broad intelligence laws passed after 9/11.

“Every review from the outside has come to the conclusion that there has been no systematic violation of law or policy on the part of the National Security Agency,” he said. “Now, we can have a debate about if that policy the best one, are those laws where we want to be,” he said, but his organization has been vindicated by those reviews, he maintained.

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Paul McLeary

McLeary covers national security policies at the White House, Pentagon, the Hill, and State Department.
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