The Guardian [official website] on Thursday obtained files showing that the US National Security Agency (NSA) and its UK counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) [official websites], have compromised the guarantees that Internet companies have given consumers to reassure them that their communications are encrypted. The files, published [NYT report] in partnership with the New York Times and ProPublica [official websites], reveal a 10-year NSA decryption program, making data through Internet cable taps exploitable. The files were reportedly received from former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden. The report alleges that the NSA hacked into computers to obtain information before it was encrypted and passed that information along to the GCHQ. The NSA justified its decryption program by alleging that it has helped decode communications by leaders of al Qaeda. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence [official website] released its own response, following the report, which states:
It should hardly be surprising that our intelligence agencies seek ways to counteract our adversaries' use of encryption. Throughout history, nations have used encryption to protect their secrets, and today, terrorists, cybercriminals, human traffickers and others also use code to hide their activities. Our intelligence community would not be doing its job if we did not try to counter that.ProPublica followed its report by releasing a statement [ProPublica report] about its intentions, stating that they believe the report was in the public interest.
The revelations surrounding the NSA surveillance programs [JURIST backgrounder] have sparked worldwide debate and controversy. In June the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in conjunction with the New York Civil Liberties Union [advocacy websites] filed suit [JURIST report] against the NSA challenging its recently revealed phone data collection. Although the president and top officials have defended the surveillance as a lawful counterterrorism measure, several US lawmakers have called for a review [JURIST report] of the government's surveillance activity in light of recent reports revealing phone and Internet monitoring. Lawmakers have also called for a criminal investigation into the activities of Snowden, who came forward [Guardian report] in early June as the whistleblower in the NSA surveillance scandal. Snowden is a 29-year-old former CIA technical worker that accessed the surveillance files when he was contracted as a civilian to work on projects for the NSA. He stated in an interview with The Guardian that he released the material because he believed the surveillance violated the right to privacy.