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The National Security Agency’s Surveillance Hurts National Security!

Picture Credit: Clipart Library

The pressing debate of privacy vs security has become more important as the National Security Agency (NSA) gets more surveillance capabilities. Many believe security should be preferred over privacy because it saves lives. However, putting this debate through the prism of the NSA reveals that the agency does not actually contribute to defending Americans. This article will cover the reasons as to why the NSA is unable to thwart terrorist attacks and criminal behavior despite having a large budget and surveillance capabilities.

The NSA is a branch of government that is part of the Department of Defense (DOD). The NSA has vast surveillance capabilities, with access to every American’s phone calls, emails, and other internet-based communications. Although the NSA’s annual budget is classified, it is estimated to be $10 billion [1].

Despite its large budget and skilled programmers, the NSA is unable to defend the United States for a few reasons:

1. Backdoors

The NSA requires internet-based communication companies to leave backdoors in their software [2]. These backdoors or holes in software allow the NSA to access company data. However, these backdoors also make the process of hacking into a company easier for cyber-attackers. These backdoors put companies at risk of being hacked, thus leaving their customers vulnerable to data theft.

2. False Positives

With its overwhelming amount of information on every single American, the NSA is always overloaded with information. This information overload pushes the NSA into believing some normal communications are related to an attack. Thus, an analysis by Mr. Munk found that for every 1 attack the NSA finds, they generate 100,000 false positives [3]. The large number of false positives reduces the NSA’s success rate to only 20%. The number is far too low as opposed to traditional investigative methods, which have a success rate of 71%. Rather than feeding onto NSA information, other security branches such as the FBI and CIA should use traditional methods to promote national security.

3. Encryption

Although the NSA has access to internet-based communication, it does not have access to encrypted platforms such as Whatsapp and TOR [4]. Once NSA surveillance capabilities were posted online, terrorists turned to encryption-based platforms [5]. Therefore, the NSA may have been able to track down criminals before encrypted platforms were built, but the abundance of encrypted platforms in today’s world prevents the NSA from doing its work. Without the NSA, however, most terrorists would stick with non-encrypted internet-platforms, making catching these terrorists easier for other security agencies.

4. Loss of Programmers

Though the NSA has been reputed with its vast amount of highly-skilled programmers, it has recently been losing its top programmers [6]. Its top programmers have been leaving for two reasons: Firstly, the NSA pays its programmers a lower salary than programmers are paid in the private sector. As a result, the private sector is pulling programmers away from the NSA. Secondly, the NSA is constantly growing unpopular among the general public for its invasion of privacy, making it an undesirable agency to work for. With a loss of skilled programmers, the NSA is unable to properly conduct its job. In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the situation for the NSA. Programmers are not only leaving to the private sector due to uncertainty, but thousands are also being fired by the government as a result of a lack of funding. In just April of last year, the government lost one million workers [7]. The lack of proper programmers within the NSA leaves the NSA susceptible to a hack. Hackers gaining access to NSA data would be devastating because the NSA has a vast amount of information on every citizen (e.g. credit card numbers, usernames/passwords, SSN, emails). These hacks have the ability to not only push millions of Americans into poverty, but also kill almost 90% of the US population. To read why, keep an eye out for my upcoming article, Why a Hack on the National Security Agency Would be Deadly.

Because of these four reasons, the NSA only hurts national security and should therefore be shut down.


[1]: Jeanne, J. (2013, June 7). What the NSA costs taxpayers. Retrieved January 29, 2021, from https://money.cnn.com/2013/06/07/news/economy/nsa-surveillance-cost/index.html#:~:text=The%20budget%20of%20the%20National,least%20%2410%20billion%20a%20year

[2]: McCarthy, T. (2015, February 23). NSA director defends plan to maintain ‘backdoors’ into technology companies. Retrieved January 29, 2021, from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/feb/23/nsa-director-defends-backdoors-into-technology-companies

[3]: Munk, T. B. (2017, September 4). View of 100,000 false positives for every real terrorist: Why anti-terror algorithms don’t work. Retrieved January 29, 2021, from https://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/7126/6522

[4]: Rowland, M. (2017, December 01). Extremism and Encryption: Terrorists on Telegram. Retrieved January 29, 2021, from https://www.hsdl.org/c/extremism-and-encryption-terrorists-on-telegram/

[5]: Perlroth, N., Larson, J., & Shane, S. (2013, September 05). N.S.A. Able to Foil Basic Safeguards of Privacy on Web. Retrieved January 29, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/06/us/nsa-foils-much-internet-encryption.html

[6]: Ellen Nakashima, A. (2018, January 03). NSA’s top talent is leaving because of low pay, slumping morale and unpopular reorganization. Retrieved January 29, 2021, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/the-nsas-top-talent-is-leaving-because-of-low-pay-and-battered-morale/2018/01/02/ff19f0c6-ec04-11e7-9f92-10a2203f6c8d_story.html

[7]: Huffer, E., & Boddupalli, A. (2020, May 22). COVID-19’s Effect on Employment Varies across States, Except in One Sector: Government Jobs. Retrieved January 29, 2021, from https://www.urban.org/urban-wire/covid-19s-effect-employment-varies-across-states-except-one-sector-government-jobs



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Jiya Gupta

Jiya Gupta


Hi! I typically write articles about politics, economics, and occasionally science. I publish an article once a week. Make sure to follow me for updates!