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NSA seeks computer to break encryption

By Sharon Bernstein | China Daily | Updated: 2014-01-04 07:22

The US National Security Agency is trying to develop a computer that could break most encryption programs, whether they are used to protect other nations' spying programs or consumers' bank accounts, The Washington Post reported on Thursday.

The report, which the newspaper said was based on documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, comes amid continuing controversy over the spy agency's program to collect the phone records and Internet communications of private citizens.

In its report, The Washington Post said the NSA is trying to develop a so-called "quantum computer" that could be used to break encryption codes that cloak sensitive information.

Such a computer, which could perform several calculations at once instead of in a single stream, may take years to develop, the newspaper said. In addition to breaking through firewalls meant to protect private data, such a computer would have implications for fields such as medicine, the newspaper reported.

The research is part of a $79.7 million project called "Penetrating Hard Targets", the newspaper said. Other, non-governmental researchers also are trying to develop quantum computers, and it is not clear whether the NSA program lags the private efforts or is ahead of them.

Snowden, living in Russia with temporary asylum, last year leaked documents he collected while working for the NSA. The United States has charged him with espionage, and more charges could follow.

His disclosures have sparked a debate over how much leeway to give the US government in gathering information to protect Americans from terrorism, and have prompted numerous lawsuits.

Last week, a federal judge ruled that the NSA's collection of phone records is lawful, while another judge in December questioned the program's constitutionality.

The issue is now likely to go before the US Supreme Court.

On Thursday, the editorial board of The New York Times said that the US government should grant Snowden clemency or a plea bargain, given the public value of revelations over the National Security Agency's vast spying programs.



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