In an interview with The Guardian, former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed that government analysts would routinely pass around sexually explicit photos they stumbled across.
In the course of the interview, building on the massive leak of NSA documents that he made public, Snowden made the startling claim that a culture exists within the NSA in which, during surveillance, nude photographs picked up of people in “sexually compromising” situations are routinely passed around:
Now in the course of their daily work, they stumble across something that is completely unrelated to their work in any sense. 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 and they show their coworker. And their coworker says ‘Oh hey, that’s great. Show it to Bill down the way.’ And then Bill sends it to George, George sends it to Tom, and sooner or later this person’s whole life has been seen by all of these other people.
The allegations are distinct, though not dissimilar, to something NSA official have already admitted is a problem: Analysts spying on their love interests. According to NSA officials such situations are relatively rare. But they are common enough to have a name: LOVEINT.
Both situations underscore the difficultly of effectively auditing the activity of the NSA, which conducts about 20 million queries of intercepted communications each month. The Washington Post, also relying on information provided by Edward Snowden, revealed that most intercepted communications involved ordinary internet users — both American and foreign — rather than intended foreign surveillance targets.
A bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate sought to limit mass interception of communications and improve oversight and accountability. That effort was abandoned after the bill was weakened substantially in the House.