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Digital privacy

A story in today's New York Times needs to be read and absorbed by every American who utilizes a computer or phone, which basically covers each one of the almost 317 million citizens. It likely applies to the world's 7.1 billion inhabitants, but there is a significant portion of those who have yet to experience modern communication devices developed nations take for granted.

As the vast majority of the globe's population doesn't live under the rule of law established in the U.S. Constitution, they are free to take or leave the information unveiled today. We simply aren't worried about them.

But we are concerned about us.

The headline correctly asserts "N.S.A. Able to Foil Basic Safeguards of Privacy on Web." The Times, choosing to reject requests from intelligence agencies not to publish the story, then unveils in detail how the U.S. government has gained access to basically everything transmitted electronically on phones and the web. The World Wide Web.

As part of its mission to uncover terrorist activities, real or imagined, the National Security Agency has spent billions of dollars to crack codes or totally bypass every form of encryption in use today. Having failed to secure permission to do this through legal channels, the NSA and counterparts in Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand set about discovering ways to decipher traffic that is touted as "secure" by private industry.

Working with both willing and unsuspecting telecommunication companies, hardware and software firms, Internet providers, chip-makers and other technology organizations, the intelligence community is able to monitor information supposedly protected by devices such as virtual private networks (VPNs), Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and fourth-generation smartphones. Simultaneously, the NSA has used political channels to influence international encryption standards used by developers.

The Times -- along with Britain's Guardian newspaper and the nonprofit news website ProPublica -- have access to 50,000-some documents that became available because of the massive leak by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

One of the documents states: "In the future, superpowers will be made or broken based on the strength of their cryptanalytic programs. It is the price of admission for the U.S. to maintain unrestricted access to and use of cyberspace."

Another document reveals the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., writing in this year's budget request: "We are investing in groundbreaking cryptanalytic capabilities to defeat adversarial cryptography and exploit Internet traffic."

It appears the NSA is having great success.

But the debate the people of this great nation should be engaging in is whether we believe the Constitution, and more specifically the Fourth Amendment, allows the federal government to have unfettered access to everything we communicate digitally. We would offer the intelligence community has gone too far.

To help formulate or perhaps alter your stance on the balance between security and privacy, we highly would recommend reading the New York Times article. If you're feeling lucky, here's a link to the digital version:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/06/us/nsa-foils-much-internet-encryption.html?hp&_r=1&

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net