English white - T shirt / cc-by-nc Charles Roffey

MyNSA: Google for the Private Web

With a citizen-facing pivot, NSA’s PRISM will take on Evernote, Intuit, Bing, and more

Phil Wolff
8 min readJul 22, 2013

While Google crawls and indexes the public web, the National Security Agency’s PRISM program gets our private web.

PRISM is the public service version of Google. Where Google devours the open net on behalf of its investors, advertisers, and other paying customers, PRISM is less mercenary, serving the general public without a profit motive.

PRISM’s collection is locked up tight; tighter than most private sector databases. The NSA is famous for that. That’s good. We want the highest levels of security to protect our private data.

The downside: access is limited to a few tens-of-thousands of US government workers and contractors and friends of theirs in the intelligence and law enforcement communities. It’s great they get to protect the country but there is so much more this resource will do.

What if we could unleash the power of PRISM for personal use?

Introducing MyNSA!

Imagine what NSA’s PRISM will do as a service for consumers, patients, students, workers, and citizens.

  • One View For All Your Cyberlife. Your personal data is locked up inside of hundreds of silos, scattered across information systems, companies, and countries. Only PRISM unifies your personal data under one roof. No silos with MyNSA!
  • Wider Reach. Many of those silos were off-limits to you. Want to see what your supervisor really wrote about you in personnel reports? How Match.com chose your ex? How much weight you put on between turnpike exits 2 and 36? All open to you.
  • Complete Transparency. Some silos, like most hospital information systems, only show you a part of what’s in your file. PRISM can reveal the whole thing including doctor notes! The NSA can help you be a better patient.
  • Backup. Accidentally delete a snapshot? Now, with the NSA backing up our photos from across photo sites and social networks and our mobile phones, our selfies are safe in PRISM’s cloud.
  • Longer Memory. Like an elephant, MyNSA never forgets. So even if you move from Myspace to Facebook to Google+ to the next thing, even if your hard drives crash or you lose your mobile, MyNSA will keep your archives safe and searchable.
  • Photo indexing. While Facebook’s face recognition software works well, nothing beats the NSA’s state of the art algorithms. With MyNSA you can see more photos of yourself than ever before. Your MyNSA Life Gallery includes those candid shots you didn’t pose for, finding your beautiful face among large crowds, even where you didn’t even know you were being photographed.
  • Lost & Found. We lose our devices all the time. The NSA can find your lost mobile with a simple ping. Can’t find your car? NSA’s live street camera network is sure to show you in which corner of which lot at the mall you should start.
  • Navigation. I personally love Google Maps but with a personal MyNSA navigation app we’ll have even more precise location data. Bonus points: MyNSA Maps makes it easy to friend and follow everyone else on the bus or in your lane.
  • Romance. Did your girlfriend say she didn’t want any secrets between you? Authorize each other with MyNSA disclosure settings and let true love blossom!
  • Time Accounting. Forget to check in when you got to work? Need to invoice clients based on your project work? No problem! MyNSA can give you concrete proof of when you arrived at work, when you left, and when you spent time on non-work activities like Facebook.
  • Live Addressbook. MyNSA updates contact information for the people you call, email, friend, meetup, or otherwise associate with. MyNSA only updates data they’ve already shared with you. Reality Driven Social Graph.
Dave J. was joking when he said “The NSA saved my butt today” with a birthday reminder. But he’s not far off. cc:by-nc-nd http://www.flickr.com/photos/nosyreporter/9133778267/in/photostream/
  • Wise Money Coach. Not even bankers can correlate your spending, day-to-day activities, health status, and social set with the deep economic, cultural, and psychometric models MyNSA makes available.
  • Health 2.0. The same artificial intelligence that alert intel officers when a despot has a heart condition or a cartel boss has high blood pressure can do the same for you. Quantified Self on steroids.

We have an enormous opportunity before us.

Let’s put PRISM to work for the people it protects.

What will it take to move forward?

The Next Four Challenges.

MyNSA’s full rollout will tackle digital identity, scale up, run a developer platform, and form a social compact with its users.

1. Personal Identity that works.

Pioneers of the Internet Identity Workshop and the Identity Ecosystem Steering Group are working on it, but it’s still far from done. This problem comes in four parts:

  • Basic ID to prove you are who we think you should be. Since we don’t want a national identity card (too 20th Century Stazi) feel free to sign in with your Costco membership card.The NSA will know it’s you.
  • Unified ID to bring all the parts of you together. You might be Richard at work, Dick to your friends, Dicky to your parents, Ricardo to your grandparents, Honey to your spouse, stepalloverme to your dominatrix, Rick to your pastor, 2830123 to your bank, Joey to your bookie, and ab836747 to your parole officer. With PRISM, the NSA can unify your identity for the first time, connecting all the parts of your life!
  • Group Identity. Maybe you’re acting on behalf of your family, your band, your club, your cartel, or another unofficially organized group. NSA Groups automatically clusters identities so you don’t have to manage membership rosters or friend lists.
  • MyNSA’s authorization services let you see and use your own stuff. NSA lets you put your private data to use when and where and with whom you like, subject to the NSA’s generous terms and conditions. NSAuth offers fine control for using your PRISMatic data almost anywhere on the web.

2. Completeness At Scale.

The NSA is only getting a fraction of your data. We can do better.

  • No ISP Left Behind. NSA sources direct partnerships with major companies like Microsoft and Facebook. We will expand PRISM’s current collections to also source from mid-range and small US Internet and telecom services. Why should your bowling scores not be available the next time you need them?
  • Volunteer your data directly to your MyNSA personal cloud. With new desktop utilities, mobile apps, and wearables, you can now add your personal data directly to your MyNSA vault. Don’t check in to Foursquare; check in to MyNSA and let the NSA cross-post to Foursquare, Facebook, Path, Jiepang, and Google+ for you. Save once, share everywhere.
  • 7 Billion Users. And let’s not forget the US is only a small part of the Internet. We’ll want to internationalize and localize the service as soon as possible so people everywhere can enjoy having a complete repository of their own. Just like America brought democracy to the world, MyNSA can bring control of personal data to every man, woman, child, and pet on Earth, now and forever.
  • Bringing your Internet Of Personal Things under your control. Computer chips in refrigerators, cars, pacemakers, furniture, and nearly everything made today talk to each other, their makers, and the cloud. MyNSA brings your gear and your home into your personal cloud, coordinating a live, interactive relationship among your stuff, your apps, and your family’s flife.

3. Terms of Service.

We’d need some, of course. Thankfully, the NSA is a US federal agency so there’s lots of precedent to build clear, simple, citizen–empowering, fair rules of the road. We just need lawyers.

Things we’ll want for the MyNSA user ToS to spell out:

  • You Can Access Most Of Your Data. You have an absolute right to see the data you’ve created. This includes digital things you’ve created explicitly — like tweets or photos or emails — and data you made through just walking through life, like your phone’s location data and your browsing clickstreams. You have a more limited right to see data others have created about you.And exquisitely narrow exceptions for governments and companies restrict your access to protect their own rights.
  • You Can Extend Access. MyNSA apps feel quaintly vintage,so you have the right to build your own web, mobile, desktop, and browser apps to access and use your data through the publicly documented MyNSA APIs. All apps must be registered with the NSA and require payment of filing fees, software audits, and background checks. All developers must be MyNSA members . Membership has its privileges.
  • Ability to Share. If you can see your data, you can share it, just like today. Except for those people on No Share List and Do Not Share List. Do Not Share people opt-out of receiving shared, liked, +’d, retweeted, or syndicated content, limiting their media/data consumption to direct, authentic communication; you won’t be able to share with them at all. The No Share List contains persons deemed by a United States agency to be a potential risk to achieving the agency’s goals (national security, public safety, a good education, a healthy mining industry) and who won’t be allowed to receive shared material or share them with others.
  • Conceal Your Data (mostly). You can make your data less visible to others through permission controls which limits access to your digital life. If you want to go all the way, “deletion” hides the data from everyone, including you too! The NSA reserves the right to hold your data indefinitely consistent with their charter.
  • MyNSA Takeout. MyNSA Takeout makes it convenient to export your data. Take your data to your local harddrive, a cloud service, or another service like MyNSA.

4. A Platform to Build Apps Upon.

Not even the NSA can build one user experience to fit everyone. It takes a developer ecosystem. The wealth and diversity of personal data, the wide variety of people served, the many contexts and uses of personal data makes for a rich solution-space.

@RohanPinto’s USA PRISM Plus, “the perfect NSA photo-sharing app for those who have nothing to hide,built on the MyNSA API.

Programmers need tools for building apps like APIs and SDKs, contracts protecting their property, standards simplifying user experience, and app stores reaching customers.

Travel sites, for example, would make better recommendations for places to visit knowing your travel behavior from credit card purchases, your dining preferences from your checkins, your dietary restrictions from your health records and pharmacy prescriptions, and your wistful hopes and dreams from emails to your old classmates.

NSA’s engineers have yet to design experiences that delight consumers. Platforms work well for Apple, Google, and Microsoft; millions of publishers and apps enrich their operating systems. MyNSA APIs will permit registered programmers to invent new ways for you to enjoy your digital life, putting your PRISMd data to work for you.

Remember, the Internet itself was created as a Department of Defense project. Now it serves the world. Why not the resources of the NSA?

MyNSA: Coming Out Of Stealth Mode.



Phil Wolff

Strategist, Sensemaker, Team Builder, Product guy. Identity of Things strategy (IDoT) @WiderTeam. +360.441.2522 http://linkedin.com/in/philwolff @evanwolf