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Cybersecurity & Standards, Government Surveillance

Astounding Group of Academics Condemns Mass Surveillance

The collective IQ of the voices calling for overhaul of surveillance practices just shot through the roof.

Today, a group of 50 leading academic researchers in information security and cryptography released an important open letter that condemns mass surveillance. It calls on the US Government to stop these activities and reject them in favor of an Internet that is secure and privacy preserving.

Their most important point is:

“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.”

While the Obama Administration recognizes that bulk collection must be reformed, unfortunately, there has been far less discussion regarding the key security standards underpinning digital services. As we noted in our scorecard comparing President Obama’s surveillance reform speech last week and the recommendations of the President’s NSA Review Group, the Administration has made no clear commitments to cease activities that undermine communications security, security standards, and the security of software products. Instead, it seems as though they will continue to horde vulnerabilities and bugs that should be reported to software developers so they get patched.

The authors of today’s letter represent a truly amazing cross-section of academic researchers in cryptography, information security and network security. The difficult thing for a former-academic like myself to communicate to a lay audience is the jaw-dropping credentials that the list as a whole represents. This list is a true cross-section of the best-of-the-best. Many of the signatures – such as MIT’s Hal Abelson and Ron Rivest, Columbia’s Steven Bellovin, and Princeton’s Ed Felten – are from academics that are the top researchers in their fields and sub-fields, including many past program chairs of top-tier computer science conferences. (In computer science, the most prestigious publication venues are conferences and if one is chosen by their peers to be the chair of such a conference, it is a high honor — and burden! — that recognizes they are at the summit of academic research.)

We need to hear from the Administration about the reforms they will adopt around technical security standards. We all deserve a secure and stable Internet free of flaws and vulnerabilities that could be exploited. Let’s hope this letter helps encourage the President to embrace real reforms; the security and stability of the entire Internet rests in the balance.