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U.S. accused of ‘betraying the Internet’ for NSA encryption cracking

The U.S. government stands accused of “betraying the Internet” by using financial incentives, secret courts and outright theft to acquire the digital keys to widely used computer encryption technologies upon which e-commerce and Web privacy depend.

“By subverting the Internet at every level to make it a vast, multi-layered and robust surveillance platform, the [National Security Agency] has undermined a fundamental social contract” between web users, the companies that connect them to the Internet, and the governments that hold the ring in that relationship, said Bruce Schneier, a computer engineer who writes a widely read blog, Schneier on Security.

His essay seemed to catch a mood of online outrage from Internet technical specialists, in the wake of new revelations from NSA leaker Edward J. Snowden that the agency has found ways to bypass or altogether defeat much of the digital encryption used by online businesses and other Web users.

Mr. Schneier said that by successfully defeating the most widely-used forms of digital encryption on the Internet, the U.S. government had revealed itself to be an “unethical steward” of the online world, and he called on computer engineers to follow Mr. Snowden’s example.

“We should expose,” he urged. “If you have been contacted by the NSA to subvert a product or protocol, you need to come forward with your story. … If you work with classified data and are truly brave, expose what you know. 

“We need whistleblowers,” he said.

Prof. John Schindler of the U.S. Naval War College and a former NSA official called Mr. Schneier’s essay “essentially an e-declaration of war on NSA.”

It comes as the a new survey reveals that a large majority of Americans take, or try to take, measures to protect their privacy online.

According to the survey, by the Pew Trust, 86 percent of U.S. Internet users have made efforts to delete or mask their digital footprints. They clear their cookies, encrypt emails, and log on to networks that obscure their IP addresses out of concerns over Internet surveillance and privacy, the survey found.

The encryption revelations were jointly reported by the New York Times, and Britain’s Guardian newspapers and the nonprofit news-site ProPublica. Mr. Schneier is working with the Guardian on some of the paper’s reporting on what ProPublica said were more than 50,000 documents Mr. Snowden had passed to the news organizations. 

Last week, the British government said in court documents that just one of the several caches of encrypted material it seized from Mr. Greenwald’s live-in boyfriend, David Miranda, at Heathrow last month contained 58,000 top secret documents. The government said the cache represented “the entire contents” of one top secret computer network, suggesting that Mr. Snowden had indiscriminately “scraped” -- downloaded everything from -- at least one of the networks he had access to, just like convicted WikiLeaks leaker, Pfc Bradley E. Manning.

 

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About the Author
Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman is an award-winning reporter for The Washington Times, covering foreign affairs, defense and cybersecurity. He was a senior editor and correspondent for United Press International for nearly a decade, and has covered the Department of Homeland Security since 2003. His reporting on the Sept. 11 Commission and the tortuous process by which some of its recommendations finally became ...

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