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Communications of the ACM

Letters to the Editor

Snowden Weak Link: Copying to USB Device

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I wish reality were as simple as Bob Toxen made it out to be in his article "The NSA and Snowden: Securing the All-Seeing Eye" (May 2014) where he said, "A simple one-minute scan on the way out by a handheld metal detector—'wanding,' as used by the Transportation Security Administration and at courthouses—would have found any flash memory device." However, flash devices have shrunk to minuscule size, even as their capacity has increased dramatically. Consider the micro-SD flash storage device in a typical smartphone; it can store more than 32GB and be small enough to be hidden practically anywhere. Moreover, its small mass makes detection especially difficult for a typical handheld metal detector. A spy could even attach one with chewing gum to a tooth, defeating practically any routine check.

So the real problem in the case of Edward J. Snowden is not that Snowden carried a flash memory device in and out of National Security Agency facilities but that he was able to transfer sensitive data to the device in the first place.


Luciano Ramalho

I know William Gaver's letter is not the only one CACM received regarding the obtuse point of view of the magazine adopted on its first cover mentioning the Snowden affair. I know because I sent another one that was not published, and I bet you received many more. As the flagship publication of an association that prides itself on promoting ethics, I find it appalling that the main focus on the Snowden affair is not on why his leaks were necessary in the first place, but instead on how the NSA could have carried on with its criminal behavior undetected. The Editor should write about the issues raised by readers on this matter. He is already late, in fact.

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