Some of the biggest names in cryptography condemn NSA spying in open letter

FILE - This Thursday, June 6, 2013, file photo, shows a sign outside the National Security Administration (NSA) campus in Fort Meade, Md. The National Security Agency has implanted software in nearly 100,000 computers around the world — but not in the United States — that allows the U.S. to conduct surveillance on those machines, The New York Times reported Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014. ((AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Some of the biggest names in cryptography and computer science just released an open letter condemning the surveillance practices of the U.S government. “Media reports since last June have revealed that the US government conducts domestic and international surveillance on a massive scale, that it engages in deliberate and covert weakening of Internet security standards, and that it pressures US technology companies to deploy backdoors and other data-collection features,” said a statement posted to masssurveillance.info. “As leading members of the US cryptography and information-security research communities, we deplore these practices and urge that they be changed.”

In a speech last week, President Obama addressed concerns related to NSA’s 215 domestic phone records collection program, but he did not remark on reports that the U.S. government had weakened encryption as part of its practices.

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Open Letter from Top U.S. Computer Security Experts Slams NSA Spying As Destroying Security

The NSA Is Making Us All Less Safe

An open letter today from a large group of professors – top US computer security and cryptography researchers – slams the damage to ecurity caused by NSA spying:

Inserting backdoors, sabotaging standards, and tapping commercial data-center links provide bad actors, foreign and domestic, opportunities to exploit the resulting vulnerabilities.

The value of society-wide surveillance in preventing terrorism is unclear, but the threat that such surveillance poses to privacy, democracy, and the US technology sector is readily apparent. Because transparency and public consent are at the core of our democracy, we call upon the US government to subject all mass-surveillance activities to public scrutiny and to resist the deployment of mass-surveillance programs in advance of sound technical and social controls. In finding a way forward, the five principles promulgated at http://reformgovernmentsurveillance.com/ [a site launched by Google, Apple, Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook, AOL, Yahoo and LinkedIn] provide a good starting point.

The choice is not whether to allow the NSA to spy. The choice is between a communications infrastructure that is vulnerable to attack at its core and one that, by default, is intrinsically secure for its users. Every country, including our own, must give intelligence and law-enforcement authorities the means to pursue terrorists and criminals, but we can do so without fundamentally undermining the security that enables commerce, entertainment, personal communication, and other aspects of 21st-century life. We urge the US government to reject society-wide surveillance and the subversion of security technology, to adopt state-of-the-art, privacy-preserving technology, and to ensure that new policies, guided by enunciated principles, support human rights, trustworthy commerce, and technical innovation.

The Washington Post notes that these are some of the top names in computer cryptography and security, including heavyweights in the government.

Many other top security experts agree:

  • IT and security professionals say spying could mess up the safety of our internet and computer systems
  • The Electronic Frontier Foundation notes:

“By weakening encryption, the NSA allows others to more easily break it. By installing backdoors and other vulnerabilities in systems, the NSA exposes them to other malicious hackers—whether they are foreign governments or criminals. As security expert Bruce Schneier explained, ‘It’s sheer folly to believe that only the NSA can exploit the vulnerabilities they create.’”

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