binary code internet securityDid anyone truly believe that their online activities and information are really private and secure? It seems hard to believe in 2013 with new stories appearing continually of hackers exploiting Internet security flaws and exposing private financial information that anyone believes their online activities can’t be monitored and used in harmful ways.

But what if those breaches of internet security are done by the government and labeled as attempts to keep people safe? How do people respond when those activities become the topic of conversation among news organizations?

Pro Publica (syndicated by Newstex), the New York Times, and the Guardian published a story called “The NSA’s Secret Campaign to Crack and Undermine Internet Security,” in which the journalists who contributed to the story highlighted four key findings, which are quoted below:

“The NSA has secretly and successfully worked to break many types of encryption, the widely used technology that is supposed to make it impossible to read intercepted communications.

“Referring to the NSA’s efforts, a 2010 British document stated: ‘Vast amounts of encrypted Internet data are now exploitable.’ Another British memo said: ‘Those not already briefed were gobsmacked!’

“The NSA has worked with American and foreign tech companies to introduce weaknesses into commercial encryption products, allowing backdoor access to data that users believe is secure.

“The NSA has deliberately weakened the international encryption standards adopted by developers around the globe.”

As you can imagine, the NSA took notice of this article and admitted that the agency uses its cryptologists for the very activities cited in the journalists’ article (which the NSA said, “should come as no surprise”). The bigger issue for the NSA was that, “The stories published yesterday, reveal specific and classified details about how we conduct this critical intelligence activity.”

Journalists have been walking the fine line between reporting a story of public interest versus revealing too much information for a very long time. Where do you weigh in? Read through the comments on the ProPublica article (linked above), and you’ll learn that the opinions on this matter specifically and in the broader scope are varied.

ProPublica published a follow-up article explaining why it published its original article about the NSA’s activities, which includes a response from the NSA (partially quoted above). That article includes an equally enlightening series of comments from people around the world offering their opinions on the NSA, Eric Snowden, internet security, and journalism. It’s well worth reading.

Image: Flavio Takemoto