Google Engineer Wins NSA Award, Then Says NSA Should Be Abolished

Last week, Dr. Joseph Bonneau learned that he had won the NSA’s first annualScience of Security (SoS) Competition. The competition, which aims to honor the best “scientific papers about national security” as a way to strengthen NSA collaboration with researchers in academia, honored Bonneau for his paper on the nature of passwords.


And how did Bonneau respond to being honored by the NSA? By expressing, in an honest and bittersweet blog post, his revulsion at what the NSA has become:

On a personal note, I’d be remiss not to mention my conflicted feelings about winning the award given what we know about the NSA’s widespread collection of private communications and what remains unknown about oversight over the agency’s operations. 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.

In accepting the award I don’t condone the NSA’s surveillance.Simply put, I don’t think a free society is compatible with an organisation like the NSA in its current form.

In an interview with Andy Cush at Animal, Bonneau went even farther in his critiques of the NSA:

I’d rather have it 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…But my feeling based on what I’ve read is that I don’t want to live in a country with an organization like the NSA is right now.

When Bonneau learned that he has won the award from the NSA, he considered turning it down. However, he ultimately decided upon accepting as a way to potentially bridge academic gaps with the NSA, as a means of opening up at least one avenue into the organization that has been mostly closed.

That said, the winner of the NSA award wants, like many privacy rights activists and citizens concerned with the government’s Fourth Amendment violations, for the NSA to be reformed by a political process (like the one which narrowly failed in the House yesterday).

Either that, or have it abolished altogether.

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