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January 03, 2014

US Spy Court Allows NSA to Continue Phone Surveillance

by VOA News

A secretive U.S. court has again ruled that the National Security Agency [NSA] can continue to collect telephone information from all Americans.

The U.S. government revealed Friday that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court renewed the NSA's mass collection of phone data.

A spokesperson for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said the 15 judges on the court have approved the phone collection program on 36 different occasions over the past seven years.

Also Friday, the U.S. government appealed a federal court ruling that the NSA's gathering of telephone records is likely unconstitutional.

U.S. district judge Richard Leon in Washington made the ruling last month, saying the NSA program was "almost Orwellian," a reference to George Orwell's futuristic novel 1984. That decision was shortly followed by a conflicting ruling by another district judge who upheld the government's data collection.

This week, previously unpublished documents have indicated the NSA is working hard to build a quantum supercomputer, powerful enough to decode virtually every form of encryption now known.

Documents made public by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden show the code-breaking agency is spending nearly $80 million on a secret research program called "Penetrating Hard Targets."
 
The NSA would not comment on the disclosures by Snowden, who has been living in asylum in Russia since last year, after exposing secret U.S. diplomatic cables and worldwide surveillance activities.
 
The U.S. government is said to be competing against quantum-computer research efforts by the European Union and Switzerland, but experts in the field say practical exploitation of such systems is years if not decades in the future.

Such a supercomputer, many times faster than today’s fastest machines, could easily solve codes now considered "unbreakable" - the type of ciphers currently used worldwide by scientific and financial institutions and governments to protect their data.

The basic principle of quantum computing is a physical phenomenon that is not yet fully understood: certain subatomic particles can simultaneously exist in two different states. A conventional computer works with binary "bits" of information that are represented as either zero or one; quantum bits could be both zero and one simultaneously.

In theory, that quirk of physics will allow quantum computers to skip through much of the elaborate mathematical computations necessary to solve complex encryption keys.