"Like many in the community of cryptographers and security engineers, I’m sad that we haven’t better informed the public about the inherent dangers and questionable utility of mass surveillance. And like many American citizens I’m ashamed we’ve let our politicians sneak the country down this path." -- Bonneau
On July 18th, Dr. Joseph Bonneau, a software engineer at Google, received the National Security Agency’s award for the best scientific cybersecurity paper. According to its stated mission, the competition was created to help broaden the scientific foundations of cybersecurity needed in the development of systems that are resilient to cyber attacks. But Bonneau was deeply conflicted about receiving the award, noting on his blog that even though he was flattered to receive the award he didn’t condone the mass surveillance programs run by the NSA: “Simply put, I don’t think a free society is compatible with an organisation like the NSA in its current form."
Bonneau elaborated on his feelings in a Twitter discussion as well as in an interview with Animal during which he said: "I’d rather have it [the NSA] abolished than persist in its current form. I think there’s a question about whether it’s possible to reform the NSA into something that’s more reasonable."
Engineers and researchers like Bonneau have a unique and important role to play in fighting back against NSA oversteps. As Michael Hirsh noted in the Atlantic last month, "The government's massive data collection and surveillance system was largely built not by professional spies or Washington bureaucrats but by Silicon Valley and private defense contractors." As Hirsh explained, tech companies have contributed enormously to wiring up Big Brother -- companies like Palantir Technologies, Eagle Alliance (of Computer Sciences Corp. and Northrup Grumman) and Booz Allen Hamilton. The only way the government gets to spy on everyone is when people who are intelligent and innovative enough to build scalable surveillance technologies decide to help them.
We may never know all the people who chose to help build the National Security Agency’s unlawful spying apparatus. And we may never know all the ethical people who turned down contracts for the NSA because they did not want to support mass surveillance without warrants. But we can and should laud individual engineers like Bonneau, who used his talents to promote effective network security and his platform to take a public stance against the NSA’s unchecked surveillance program.
Hopefully Bonneau’s example will inspire more cryptographers and security engineers to speak out against unlawful and unconstitutional surveillance, adopting the moral high ground in a battle against fear-driven surveillance that needs more outspoken leaders from the tech community.
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