Future Tense

The NSA Published Its First Transparency Report on Tumblr for Some Reason

The NSA’s Tumblr.

Screencap from Tumblr.

Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like the NSA has pretty legit and official platform options when it goes to publish a report. NSA.gov comes to mind. So it seems weird that the agency would choose Tumblr as the place to host its high-profile and long-awaited 2013 Transparency Report.

The report counts 19,212 national security letters containing 38,832 requests for information; 1,767 FISA orders; and 423 FISA business records requests (in which the NSA surveyed telephony metadeta). Interestingly, a single Section 702 FISA request affected 89,138 “targets,” whereas the NSA reports that the 1,767 regular FISA requests impacted only 1,144 “targets.”

A target can be a person, group, or organization, meaning that one tally in this report could represent any number of people.  Some laws require that the government obtain a court order specifying the communications facilities used by a “target.” Although the government may have legal authority to conduct intelligence collection against multiple communications facilities used by the target, the user of the facilities—the “target”—is only counted once in the above figures.

And no matter how many facilities are involved or how much data the NSA accesses to investigate a “target,” it is counted only once. Another definition points out, “In some cases, one order can by its terms affect multiple targets.” Basically, it’s impossible to tell anything from these numbers.

Richard Salgado, Google’s director of law enforcement and information security, was diplomatic but critical in a statement:

We applaud this first step, and strongly encourage other countries to follow suit, though there is still more to be done. First, the government reports in a manner that makes it impossible to compare its report with the report of companies. … Second, we would like to see the federal government report on its national security demands with more information about the targets than it does today. Companies like Google can only provide a limited snapshot of how national security authorities are used. The Department of Justice, however, can provide a complete picture.

To be fair, there is a short press release about the transparency report on the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s website. And that press release links to a full PDF version of the report, which is hosted on DNI.gov. But its “View 2013 Statistical Transparency Report” link leads to the NSA’s Tumblr, where data from the report is posted in a more simple and aesthetically pleasing way. It is Tumblr, after all.

Currently, the NSA.gov homepage doesn’t mention the report at all, even in the “Latest NSA News” section. Then again Tumblr is great for so many things, why can’t it work for this? The NSA is just really going to have to step up its GIF sharing.