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NSA rents spy tools to businesses

NSA rents spy tools to businesses
photo courtesy of SHUTTERSTOCK

The NSA is spying on you. That's a fact that has become increasingly clear over the past year thanks to whistleblower Edward Snowden and other leaks.

Click here to read my past coverage of the NSA spying scandal.

An argument for all that spying is that it keeps our country safe, and an argument against it is that freedom and privacy are more important than security. Balancing security and privacy is important, and it's a debate that we as citizens should always have.

However, what if the NSA's exotic spying technology wasn't just in government hands? Would that change your opinion of spying for the security of our nation?

Like it or not, that's exactly the case. For the past 20+ years, the NSA has been licensing - or renting - its technology and intellectual property to private industry through the Technology Transfer Program.

This year the NSA even put out a catalog - click here to open the PDF. The catalog covers technology in areas such as acoustics, information processing, microelectronics, optics, signal processing and more.

More specifically, you'll find things like "real-time simultaneous identification of multiple voices," "finding large numbers of keywords in continuous text streams," "language-independent method of generating index terms" and "geolocating logical network addresses." Those all have non-spying applications, but it's easy to see why the NSA developed them.

Of course, there are also some anti-spying and neutral technologies in there as well ranging from flexible microcircuits, tamper-proof evidence bags, user-image authentication and a way to detect cellphone SIM card removal and reinsertion to a "shredder residue dispersion system," fiber optic advancements and a way to create mesh networks.

Of course, if the NSA is revealing these technologies then that means they're a bit older and probably no longer extremely sensitive. It wouldn't be a stretch to imagine that the NSA already has much better systems or knows how to exploit every single technology if it wanted.

So, how do you go about getting your hands on this technology? Here's the process as outlined in the catalog:

Prospective licensee identifies a specific technology.

Prospective licensee contacts the Technology Transfer Program and completes Letter of Intent, Non-Disclosure Agreement, and Company Validation Form.

TTP Director assigns agreement to a transfer agent (TA) who facilitates dialogue between licensee and inventor(s) / technologist(s).

Licensee decides to pursue agreement and submit Letter of Application (LOA) and Business Plan.

Letter of Application and Business Plan are evaluated for technical, business, marketing, and economic understanding of intended product.

The TA, in cooperation with the Office of General Counsel (OGC), drafts agreement.

Negotiations are conducted between licensee and the transfer agent.

After negotiations are complete, agreement is signed by both parties and executed.

Given the level of bureaucracy needed to even get your hands on one of these technologies, maybe there's not much to worry about after all.

So, what do you think? Is this a concern, or are there more important things to worry about? Let me know in the comments.

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