How Hackers Beat the NSA In The ’90s and Can Do It Again

Gregory Ferenstein | TechCrunch | June 28, 2013

While the world parses the ramifications of the National Security Agency’s massive snooping operation, it’s important to remember an earlier government attempt at data collection and, more important, how a group of hackers and activists banded together to stop it.

In the early 1990s, the military was petrified that encryption technologies would leave them blind to the growing use of mobile and digital communications, so they hatched a plan to ban to place a hardware patch that gave the NSA backdoor wiretap access, the so-called “Clipper Chip“.

After hearing about the plan, a grassroots cabal of hackers, engineers, and academics erupted in protest, sparking a nationwide campaign to discredit the security and business implications of the Clipper chip, ultimately bringing the NSA’s plans to a screeching halt.

Now, the anti-authority community of programmers and tech execs are gearing up for another fight against the NSA’s top-secret Internet Snooping apparatus, PRISM, and there are some important lessons they could learn from their victorious predecessors.