Who Is Rebecca Richards, The NSA's New Civil Liberties And Privacy Officer?

on January 30 2014 3:04 PM
National_Security_Agency_headquarters,_Fort_Meade,_Maryland
National Security Agency headquarters in Maryland Wikimedia Commons

Back in September, the National Security Agency announced that it would create a new position for a Civil Liberties and Privacy Officer in light of the outcry over the agency’s surveillance programs. On Wednesday, General Keith Alexander, the NSA's director, stated that the position had been filled by former Homeland Security privacy official Rebecca Richards.

“After a rigorous and lengthy interview process, I’ve selected an expert whose background will bring additional perspectives and insight to our foreign intelligence activities,” Alexander said in a statement. “I'm confident that Ms. Richards is the right person with the right experience for the job. She will report directly to me and will advise me and our senior leadership team to ensure privacy and civil-liberties considerations remain a vital driver for all our strategic decisions, particularly in the areas of technology and processes.”

Clearly, Alexander believes that Richards is the right choice for the job. But who is she, and what exactly qualifies her for the position?

For starters, Richards has been working as a privacy official in the Department of Homeland Security for years. After obtaining a graduate degree from George Washington University, Richards joined the Department of Homeland Security as the Director of Privacy Compliance sometime before 2004. In 2004, she was promoted to Senior Director of Privacy Compliance, a position she has held until now.

As this graph detailing the DHS’ privacy office shows, Richards’ position as Senior Director of Privacy Compliance puts her at the head of a large team, under Deputy Chief Privacy Officer Jonathan Cantor. Cantor works directly under Chief Privacy Officer Karen L. Neuman.

   PrivacyOfficeOrgChart_FEB2013_webversion

Her job involved ensuing that Homeland Security follows the five main laws: the Privacy Act of 1975, the E-government Act of 2002, the Freedom of Information Act of 1966, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 and the Implementing the Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007.

As for Richards’ job once she starts at the NSA, it doesn’t exactly sound like an easy one. According to the job listing, her main responsibility will be to “provide advice and guidance to the Director and the NSA senior leadership team to ensure that all agency activities appropriately protect privacy and civil liberties consistent with operational, legal, and other requirements.” Richards will also be required to educate NSA employees on privacy, serve as a liaison between private and public sectors and provide testimony at Congressional hearings. How much will she be paid for all this? The salary is $173,000.

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