Long before 9/11, brilliant NSA crypto-mathematician Bill Binney had developed an algorithm to make sense of the unbelievably massive amounts of data American spies were pulling in – he called it ThinThread. And then it went very, very wrong.
ThinThread, the New Yorker reports, proved to be too good: designed to track foreign enemies via their electronic footprints, Binney was horrified to find that the powerful software processed mammoth amounts of American communications as well. Without a warrant – illegally. Binney implemented an encryption scheme that blurred out American chatter unless it was flagged by a judge, but his system was discarded by the NSA for being too invasive.
This was before 9/11. Then things changed. The NSA put a new tracking system into place – only it wasn’t that new at all, Binney claims. “It was my brainchild,” he explains. “But they removed the protections, the anonymisation process. When you remove that, you can target anyone.” From there, Binney was sucked into a morass of intelligence community intrigue, recrimination and prosecution. [New Yorker]
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