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September 06, 2013 11:29 AM NSA Encryption Story Roundup

By Ryan Cooper

In case you missed it, yesterday there was a blockbuster co-reported story from the Guardian, New York Times, and ProPublica. The nickel summary:

The National Security Agency is winning its long-running secret war on encryption, using supercomputers, technical trickery, court orders and behind-the-scenes persuasion to undermine the major tools protecting the privacy of everyday communications in the Internet age, according to newly disclosed documents.
The agency has circumvented or cracked much of the encryption, or digital scrambling, that guards global commerce and banking systems, protects sensitive data like trade secrets and medical records, and automatically secures the e-mails, Web searches, Internet chats and phone calls of Americans and others around the world, the documents show.

“Behind-the-scenes persuasion” includes “collaborating with technology companies in the United States and abroad to build entry points into their products.”

Marcy Wheeler points out something remarkable—for the code names of these programs, the NSA and its British counterpart GCHQ both chose the names of civil war battles. On the American side, it’s Manassas and Bullrun; on the British side it’s Edgehill. That’s indicative of a disturbing attitude at the very least.

Bruce Schneier isn’t happy:

Government and industry have betrayed the internet, and us.
By subverting the internet at every level to make it a vast, multi-layered and robust surveillance platform, the NSA has undermined a fundamental social contract. The companies that build and manage our internet infrastructure, the companies that create and sell us our hardware and software, or the companies that host our data: we can no longer trust them to be ethical internet stewards.

Dan Froomkin points out an interesting angle—that now everyone knows the NSA has these programs, they won’t fear so much to use them:

I used to say, we don’t really care if the NSA is reading our traffic, because if they are, the secret is so valuable they won’t waste it on anything but the most important national security matters. The Snowden revelations suggest that wasn’t completely right — there was some information sharing with civilian domestic law enforcement, although it was obfuscated in ways that undermined the constitutional guarantee of the right to confront witnesses against you. More importantly, the fact of the Snowden revelations mean that the cat is out of the bag, so the disincentive to use the information will be greatly reduced.

Charles Stross has some thoughts as well.

Ryan Cooper is a National Correspondent at The Week, and a former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @ryanlcooper

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