Cybersecurity researchers call for NSA changes

Top encryption and information security academics are calling for the Obama administration to prevent spy agencies from conducting massive surveillance on people and weakening cybersecurity standards.

In an open letter published on Friday, 50 top scholars from around the country called for the aggressive programs at the National Security Agency (NSA) to be reformed.

“Indiscriminate collection, storage, and processing of unprecedented amounts of personal information chill free speech and invite many types of abuse, ranging from mission creep to identity theft,” they wrote. “Inserting backdoors, sabotaging standards, and tapping commercial data-center links provide bad actors, foreign and domestic, opportunities to exploit the resulting vulnerabilities.”

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Signers to the letter included authors, think tank fellows and professors from Yale, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, among other schools.

President Obama has pledged to reform the NSA’s surveillance by placing new restrictions on the agency’s ability to search phone call records. He also pledged to rein in snooping on friendly foreign leaders and promised to work with Congress to make other changes.

The president did not, however, address reports that the NSA has been actively working to crack online encryption methods that companies and people use to protect their communications on the Internet. Privacy advocates and technology companies said that the president’s omission of the issue was glaring.

The signers of Friday’s letter said that they did not want to cripple intelligence or law enforcement officials’ ability to track terrorists and criminals, but that they wanted to prevent the NSA from undermining security on the Internet.

“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,” they wrote. 

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