There’s An Easy Technical Fix To A Good Chunk of Our Spy Problems

Bill Binney is the high-level NSA executive who created the agency’s mass surveillance program for digital information. A 32-year NSA veteran widely regarded as a “legend” within the agency, Binney was the senior technical director within the agency and managed thousands of NSA employees.

Binney has been interviewed by virtually all of the mainstream media, including CBS, ABC, CNN, New York Times, USA Today, Fox News, PBS and many others.

Binney knows how to rein in NSA spying …

Specifically, Binney and his team – including NSA veterans Thomas Drake and Kurt Wiebe – created a system which automatically encrypts all information about Americans.

That information can only be read (i.e. decrypted) if a judge orders it to be decrypted after a finding that there is probable cause that the target is a bad guy.

In other words, the government had to obtain a search warrant based upon probably cause before a particular suspect’s communications could be decrypted.

This protected American citizens’ constitutional rights. Specifically, no unreasonable search and seizure or violation of our rights of association or speech. Unless a judge issues a search warrant, people’s privacy remains intact.

Protecting Americans’ Constitutional Rights

But the NSA now collects all data in an unencrypted form, so that no probable cause is needed to view any citizen’s information.

Binney says that it is actually cheaper and easier to store the data in an encrypted format (the government’s current system is being done for political – not practical – purposes.)

Because the NSA collects all of our raw information in unencrypted form, our constitutional right to avoid unreasonable searches and seizures – and to be able to speak freely and associate with who we wish – are being DESTROYED

By reinstating Binney’s system of automatic encryption, Americans’ privacy rights will be restored.

Binney told Washington’s Blog:

A Thinthread [the name of Binney's encrypted system] type collection system up front would not even take in all the data about individuals unless they were close to a group of bad guys in the social network. This would remove most of the concern on constitutional and legal grounds.

Background on “closeness” to bad guys.

Vital Legislation

There are some good pieces of legislation being proposed by Congress to rein in runaway NSA spying. But it is difficult to draft laws which remove all of the loopholes …and most laws contain loopholes big enough to drive a truck through.

In addition, creative but unethical people will always try to find a way around new laws.

By requiring automatic encryption of all Americans’ data – subject to decryption only with a search warrant issued by a federal judge – a mechanism and procedure will be established which removes a lot of room for mischief.

Automatically encrypting the data would place the cookie jar on the top shelf … out of reach of immature hands.

NSA Data Vulnerable to Foreign Hackers

Implementing Binney’s system of automatic encryption would solve another giant problem …

Specifically, top internet security experts say that the NSA’s current spying system makes the Internet less secure, less safe … and more vulnerable to hackers and bad guys.

Indeed, huge quantities of web data originating in North America have been re-routed to bizarre locations all over the world by unknown actors.

The NSA’s big data collection itself . And the Pentagon itself sees the collection of “big data” as a “national security threat” … but the NSA is the biggest data collector on the planet, and thus provides a tempting mother lode of information for foreign hackers.

Given that Americans’ sensitive, confidential information is lying around the NSA’s computers unencrypted, China, Russia or other actors can grab it. Indeed, leaving it unencrypted is like waiving a red flag for bad guys to get it.

(Sure, the NSA has firewalls and such. But its computer systems are not as bullet-proof as one might assume, and hackers have successfully penetrated Department of Defense, Federal Reserve and many other supposedly secure systems).

Binney confirmed to us that automatically encrypting data would also help protect it from being easily hacked by non-U.S. actors:

When done properly, encryption would give even the Chinese and Russians difficulty.

He also explained that the NSA is overly-confident about the security of its own systems:

One of the arguments NSA would make is that they have a closed and continuously encrypted network world-wide. Which they would argue would  protect them from hackers.  However,  even they don’t know that that is true for sure.  They do not have good documentation of their network and therefore can not assure everyone that the “Network” is truly isolated and secure.

Indeed, this is a matter of national security. Automatically encrypting Americans’ private data will make it harder for foreigners to access the data.

For all of the above reasons, encrypting Americans’ data must be central to NSA reform efforts.


Category: Think Tank, War/Defense

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

5 Responses to “If You Want to Rein In the NSA, HERE’s How to Do It”

  1. bytehead says:

    Sorry, this article is a load of clap.

    Encrypting the data is only good if you keep the keys safe. The way that Snowden has walked out with as much of the data that he has is an indication that there is no way that the NSA can be trusted to keep the keys safe. The encryption doesn’t reign the NSA in one bit. It’s an extra step that they will have to go through to access the data. Just how in the hell is a judge’s order actually going to decrypt the data? It’s not. It will ALLOW the NSA to decrypt it. And since there is technically no oversight of the NSA, they will do as they please, court order or not. They already openly lie to Congress on a regular basis.

    How Binney actually thinks that encryption is going to cheaper and easier to store is, well, laughable. There may be some gains by compressing the data, but compressing the data is not something that is only done by encryption. Compression can be done that has nothing to do with encryption. Really, if this were actually true, wouldn’t EVERYBODY already be doing it?

    Thinthread doesn’t seem to be an encryption system, my read is that it is a correlation system that is able to ignore data that it feels is insignificant. Until it is. Or some such. Encrypting something? That isn’t a feature that I scanned.

    As to foreign hackers, the only safe computer is an unplugged non-running one, locked in a room, with the key thrown away for that lock. In other words, not a very useful one. Encryption will slow somebody down. Unless it’s a ridiculous no good form of encryption, and there are plenty of them out there that claim to be good that aren’t. Some possibly given their seal of approval by the NSA.

    This article sounds like something that has been thrown together that sounds plausible, even while not really making any sense.

    There is no doubt that the NSA does plenty of encryption, doing Internet Protocol security, encrypted file systems and other robust encryption technologies, this stuff isn’t new, although it can be quite a pain in the ass to make sure everything works as it should.

    They only way to make sure that the NSA does not do illegal things with our phone records and phone conversations is to not collect the data in the first place. Calling for anything else to be done without this being done first is just plain wrong.

  2. tzink7 says:

    I agree with the above commenter. I don’t see how encryption makes things easier and cheaper – it’s the exact opposite of that.

    Storing data unencrypted means you capture all the data and store it somewhere. Encrypting the data means you must capture it and then store it after first encrypting it with an encryption key. You then need to keep the keys on a separate physical server and have access control lists to that server (i.e., ensure that not anyone can get it whenever they wish). Then, you have to have a key backup system so that data can be retrieved, and then a key rotation system wherein the keys are updated, but first you have to decrypt all of the existing data and then re-encrypt it with the new key.

    It is definitely true that this is much more secure. But it is not easier and safer.

  3. James P says:

    Bravo! So what does this mean? Is Bill Binney trying to create a cover for NSA that will meet approval of Congress and citizenry? Knowing what we know about how devious minds work, not just in the intelligence community but in law enforcement and the justice dept, who could be trusted to hold the keys and who would have copies? This whole idea is a red herring and raises a red flag.

  4. normankelley says:

    What I find amazing is some people outrightly dismisses Binney when he, before Snowden, was trying to alert officials about the NSA was doing. If I remember correctly reading, the FBI entered his home and waved a gun in his face as means to intimidate him. This is how a government goes after whistleblowers. Yet you have blowhards on this site, puffing themselves up and acting as if they really know what they’re talking about. Binney worked on these systems and knows where the bodies are laid.

  5. cschene says:

    I assume that all commercial or public domain encryption programs have “back doors” the NSA can access. However, if you have advanced computer programming skills and advanced math skills (at least university level calculus) you can create your own encryption scheme that the NSA does not yet know how to crack. Given time and computing power they could probably crack it, but it is impractical for the NSA to do this for many unique algorithms. At some point they could probably back engineer my complied code if they can get their hands on it, but again that takes focus, time and computing cycles to do that.

    bytehead: They keys are of little use to them if they do not know the algorithm that you are using and I can change my algorithm regularly. I can create a multilevel substitution cypher, for example, with multiple keys and I can use something very obscure as one of my substitutions like the force of the gravitational attraction between all the planets in the solar system at a given point in time: even that is more complex than I would require—but that is an example of how obscure it could be.