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Congressman asks to bar NSA’s “back doors” to encryption

State Surveillance Repeal Act would remove a lot of the government’s spying powers

Documents recently revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) was waging a war on encryption—the electronic scrambling that protects e-mail, online transactions and other communications—in an effort to counter Internet privacy protections and obtain information. But one congressman has decided to fight back.

Representative Rush D. Holt Jr., a democrat from New Jersey who also happens to be a physicist, has introduced legislation that would prohibit the NSA from installing encryption “back doors,” which would allow access to information. Holt says in using back doors to encryption, the NSA is overreaching and may be hurting American interests, as well as the reputations of companies with products the NSA may have influenced or altered as a result of these back doors.

“We pay them to spy,” Holt told the New York Times. “But if in the process they degrade the security of the encryption we all use, it’s a net national disservice.”

Holt’s State Surveillance Repeal Act would remove a lot of the government’s spying powers it acquired post the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“The agency has encouraged or coerced companies to install back doors in encryption software and hardware, worked to weaken international standards for encryption and employed custom-built supercomputers to break codes or find mathematical vulnerabilities to exploit, according to the documents, disclosed by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor,” the New York Times reports.

Holt was responding to recent reports, published last week by several news outlets, that the NSA has spent billions of dollars in its effort to use back doors to defeat of bypass encryption.

Companies such as Yahoo! and Facebook are feeling vulnerable to the pressures by the government to release information about their users. Just yesterday, both companies asked the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to allow them to release the details about the national security orders the government gives them. Google Inc. had previously filed a similar request.

Read more about the State Surveillance Repeal Act and the controversy surrounding the NSA on the New York Times.

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Cathleen Flahardy

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