See Inside Scientific American Volume 311, Issue 2

How to Fix the NSA

A three-step plan for using data right in an age of government overreach

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For the first few decades of its existence, the National Security Agency was a quiet department with one primary job: keeping an eye on the Soviet Union. Its enemy was well defined and monolithic. Its principal tools were phone taps, spy planes and hidden microphones.

After the attacks of September 11, all of that changed. The nsa's chief enemy became a diffuse network of individual terrorists. Anyone in the world could be a legitimate target for spying. The nature of spying itself changed as new digital communication channels proliferated. The exponential growth of Internet-connected mobile devices was just beginning. The nsa's old tools apparently no longer seemed sufficient.

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