50 professors and researchers have signed an open letter to the US Government saying they “deplore” the practice of surveillance and urge that it be changed.
The open letter criticised the reported actions of the US Government, specifically that it “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.”
The signers, who described themselves as “leading members of the US cryptography and information-security research communities” said that 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.
Signers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, Yale, Princeton and Columbia University, said that these are not hypothetical problems as inserting backdoors, sabotaging standards and tapping commercial data centre links provide bad actors – foreign and domestic – opportunities to exploit any resulting vulnerabilities.
The letter said: “The value of society-wide surveillance in preventing terrorism is unclear, but the threat that such surveillance poses to privacy, democracy, and the US technology sector is readily apparent. Because transparency and public consent are at the core of our democracy, we call upon the US Government to subject all mass-surveillance activities to public scrutiny and to resist the deployment of mass-surveillance programs in advance of sound technical and social controls.”
The letter concludes with signers, including RSA algorithm co-inventor Ronald Rivest, Bruce Schneier and Greg Rose from the International Association for Cryptologic Research, saying that the NSA has a choice between a communications infrastructure that is vulnerable to attack at its core and one that, by default, is intrinsically secure for its users.
It said: “Every country, including our own, must give intelligence and law-enforcement authorities the means to pursue terrorists and criminals, but we can do so without fundamentally undermining the security that enables commerce, entertainment, personal communication, and other aspects of 21st-century life.
“We urge the US government to reject society-wide surveillance and the subversion of security technology, to adopt state-of-the-art, privacy-preserving technology, and to ensure that new policies, guided by enunciated principles, support human rights, trustworthy commerce, and technical innovation.”