Hill clarifies role of NSA in the U.S.

N-NSA-Pizza-cropped Colby Patterson

Reluctant students and quiet staff members filed into the Hinckley Institute of Politics for pizza and a talk on the recent NSA controversies by senior online editor at Forbes magazine Kashmir Hill Tuesday afternoon.

As soon as Hill began discussing controversial politics of the NSA, the audience began to laugh along with her.

Hill has worked extensively on reporting issues of security and NSA involvement and tactics “for a while.” Hill addressed the recent leaks involving Edward Snowden along with personal stories about a data center in Utah.

She said that in the past, “talking about or even thinking about the NSA was considered messing with the NSA … now we know so much more about how the NSA works.”

Hill’s speech covered both the basics of the NSA and the recent scandals, now being called “LoveInt” or “Love Intelligence,” where NSA employees would use the power of their positions to get information on their significant others and who they were talking to.

She reported that the NSA has not received any fines or punishment for this or any other oversights. She also talked about Internet companies’ willingness to step up against NSA and its requests and report these “gag orders.”

“Companies like Google led the charge to talk about these more secret government orders that they don’t want to talk about,” Hill said. “People are now feeling empowered to push back against the way surveillance and law enforcement have evolved.”

When asked if she thought NSA was working for its purpose, using this gathered information to protect citizens, Hill said “Really, there are no examples where they couldn’t have gotten the information somewhere else.”

Sarah Brown, a sophomore in marketing, said that while she is required to go to these kind of forums for class, she ends up learning about subjects she normally doesn’t hear much about.

She said this forum “taught [her] the basic procedures of the NSA. They seem more like a protection now.”

Connor Yakaitis, a sophomore in political science, said he thought this forum addressed “a really relevant issue.”

Yakaitis, along with seven others, stood to ask Hill questions about the NSA and its involvement, along with Hill’s personal stance on the corporation.

“I’m not in the shut-down-NSA camp,” Hill said. “I think the NSA, especially in today’s world, is necessary.”

Hill also addressed the public’s reactions to the NSA and the recent leaks.

“The leaks have been controversial. Some people have said they are bad … but other people think it’s been good in a way.”

After pointing out the basics of the NSA leaks and technology, Hill used the majority of the forum time to answer questions from the audience.

“The public really blows things out of proportion,” Brown said. “I realize now that they’re less threatening than a lot of people make them seem.”

Jayne Nelson, associate director of the Hinckley Institute, helps plan and carry out all forums at the institute.

“I think [this forum] brought different views on this subject of communication,” she said.

k.johnson@chronicle.utah.edu