The Switchboard: The NSA still has no idea how much information Snowden took

December 16, 2013

(The Guardian/AFP/Getty Images)

Published every weekday, the Switchboard highlights five tech policy stories you need to read.

It’s too soon to end the Uncarrier experiment. The Switch's Brian Fung explains why a Sprint buyout of T-Mobile would be unfortunate for consumers: "Its 'uncarrier' attitude offers an important foil to the likes of Verizon and AT&T. The company's tactics, which include divorcing handset prices from contract payments, free international data roaming and a habit of openly needling AT&T, have won it hundreds of thousands of new subscribers recently, with more growth likely on the way."

By cracking cellphone code, NSA has capacity for decoding private conversations. "The cellphone encryption technology used most widely across the world can be easily defeated by the National Security Agency," according to Craig Timberg and Ashkan Soltani, reporting for The Post, "giving the agency the means to decode most of the billions of calls and texts that travel over public airwaves every day." And that has some pretty broad implications: "The agency’s ability to crack encryption used by the majority of cellphones in the world offers it wide-ranging powers to listen in on private conversations."

Officials say U.S. may never know extent of Snowden’s leaks. National Security officials don't know how many documents former NSA contractor Edward Snowden took with him when he fled the country earlier this year, report Mark Mazzetti and Michael S. Schmidt for the New York Times. "Investigators remain in the dark about the extent of the data breach partly because the N.S.A. facility in Hawaii where Mr. Snowden worked — unlike other N.S.A. facilities — was not equipped with up-to-date software that allows the spy agency to monitor which corners of its vast computer landscape its employees are navigating at any given time."

Google just bought the company behind this creepy galloping robot. The Switch's Timothy B. Lee writes that Google has completed its purchase of Boston Dynamics, a robotic company that has produced some robots that can walk, run and climb over a variety of terrains with funding from DARPA. "We don't know what Google CEO Larry Page plans to do with his latest toys, but we imagine 'build an invincible robot army' is somewhere on the long-term business plan," he jokes.

Amazon's German workers set to go on strike. "Workers at Amazon.com's German operations were set to go on strike Monday, in the middle of the crucial Christmas holiday season, in a dispute over pay that has been raging for months," reports Reuters. Amazon employs around 9,000 people in Germany, and the Verdi union has organized a number of short strikes throughout the year "to try to force Amazon to accept collective bargaining agreements in the mail order and retail industry as benchmarks for workers' pay."

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.
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Timothy B. Lee | December 15, 2013