OpenAI appoints former NSA head Paul Nakasone to its board

June 14, 2024

  • OpenAI appointed former NSA head and retired General Paul Nakasone to its board of directors
  • Nakasone will join OpenAI’s Safety and Security Committee to bolster AI cybersecurity efforts
  • Nakasone holds strong views on the importance of tech companies aiding the collection of intelligence

OpenAI has appointed former NSA head and retired General Paul Nakasone to its board of directors. Nakasone’s views on intelligence gathering have raised concerns of civil liberties advocates.

OpenAI has been severely criticized over its approach to AI safety in the wake of the collapse of its superalignment team and exodus of safety experts.

It has since established its Safety and Security Committee, which will benefit from Nakasone’s considerable expertise in its efforts to use AI to fight cybercrime.

Bret Taylor, Chair of OpenAI’s Board, said, “Artificial Intelligence has the potential to have huge positive impacts on people’s lives, but it can only meet this potential if these innovations are securely built and deployed. General Nakasone’s unparalleled experience in areas like cybersecurity will help guide OpenAI in achieving its mission of ensuring artificial general intelligence benefits all of humanity.”

Privacy concerns

Nakasone has impeccable credentials, but his views on intelligence gathering come under added scrutiny in his new position.

While he was director of the NSA, he wrote an op-ed published in the Washington Post in which he endorsed the renewal of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Section 702 sets out the parameters for collecting intelligence on non-US individuals while protecting the privacy of US citizens.

Although Section 702 targets non-U.S. persons outside the United States, it often results in the incidental collection of communications involving US persons.

Critics argue that this incidental collection can lead to substantial amounts of data on American citizens being gathered without a warrant.

Nakasone said, “We also needed a sensible way to work with U.S. technology companies whose services were increasingly being exploited by terrorists and other hostile actors abroad to plot against us. Congress provided just that in 2008 with the creation of Section 702.”

And now he sits on the board of directors of one of those companies.

In 2023, Nakasone issued a directive to the NSA’s signals intelligence, or SIGINT, division, which is responsible for covert surveillance and data collection worldwide.

The directive said that all people should be treated with “dignity and respect” but then went on to outline how to spy on them.

The directive said the “NSA should only engage in bulk collection upon a determination that it is necessary to engage in bulk collection in order to advance a validated intelligence priority.”

When the directive was made public, Evan Greer, director of the digital rights advocacy group Fight for the Future, told The Intercept, “This is like the CIA putting out a statement saying that going forward they’ll only waterboard people with dignity and respect. Mass surveillance is fundamentally incompatible with basic human rights and democracy.”

OpenAI will undoubtedly benefit from Nakasone’s experience in keeping its servers and weights secure from prying eyes.

But you have to wonder what impact this move could have on ChatGPT users if one of Nakasone’s former NSA colleagues calls in a favor.

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Eugene van der Watt

Eugene comes from an electronic engineering background and loves all things tech. When he takes a break from consuming AI news you'll find him at the snooker table.


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