Both the New York Times and USA Today reported on an interview with former NSA employee Edward Snowden that appeared in the Guardian.
In the interview, Snowden says that NSA analysts do exactly what you would expect twenty something single guys to do when they come across sexually explicit pictures as part of looking for terrorists. They share it with other analysts, who share it again.
Snowden says – and this does not particularly conflict with anything the brass has said – that most of what is being collected is not the communications of ‘targets’ – their code word for potential terrorists – but rather the communications of your neighbors, including intimate communications of consenting adults.
Assume that during the course of their normal search activities they come across a nude photograph of a cute young thing in a sexually compromising position. Purely coincidental to what they are searching for. Assume that she is not holding a block of C4 or Semtex (military grade explosives) while in this compromising situation.
What SHOULD happen is the analyst should go about his business looking for people trying to harm the United States. What DOES happen is that he shows it to the guy in the next cube. Then they share it with Bill and Bill shares it with Sam. You get the idea.
Does this happen every time? Highly unlikely. Does it happen sometimes? Highly likely. Is there anything you can do about it? Probably not directly, but get involved in the political process. Ask your politicians what their position is on government snooping. Vote. Speak out. It will not change things overnight, but if we don’t participate, it likely will get worse.
Of course the person in the photo has no clue that she has become a virtual pinup girl inside the NSA. In fact, she has no way of knowing that the photo or sext has found it’s way into an NSA database.
They call it a fringe benefit s of working at the NSA.
I suspect that some in the NSA will deny this is happening.
Remember that this is the same agency that allowed a 29 year old contractor to walk out the door with almost 2 million documents and were not aware of that until he told them, so I would not particularly believe that they know the answer to your question.
Think about that before you send that next intimate text or email. Someone may be watching you. And sharing it.