The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

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

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
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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 "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.

Among the group that signed the letter are more than 50 experts in the field. Several are ex-federal employees, including Ed Felten, now the director of the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton and who was the Federal Trade Commission's first chief technologist. The FTC's  second chief technologist, Steve Bellovin, who is now a professor at Columbia University, also signed the letter.

Some signers have received funding from defense agencies for research, including Bryan Ford, an assistant professor at Yale University whose CV lists multiple DARPA awards, and MIT professor Nickolai Zeldovich, who lists DARPA among the supporters of his research. Another signer, Georgia Institute of Technology professor Lee Wenke, lists funding from DARPA, the Office of Naval Research and the Army Research Office.

Others have fewer government ties but are significant figures in computer science or cryptography fields, including MIT professors Hal Abelson, who was the founding director of both Creative Commons and the Free Software Foundation, and Ron Rivest, one of the pioneers of modern public key cryptography.

The signers of the letter say they are united by their dismay at the recently revealed NSA actions, which they believe threaten the technological infrastructure of society. "The choice is not whether to allow the NSA to spy," they explain."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"