The NSA is seeking to build a quantum computer capable of breaking most encryption codes, the Washington Post has reported. Encryption is used to protect sensitive information including banking and emails.
The Washington Post cited documents leaked by former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden in a report published Thursday detailing the latest revelations.
The newspaper said the quantum computer currently under development could be used to break encryption codes designed to secure protect global medical, banking, business and government records stored online.
It added that the research into the machine, which it said would be exponentially faster than classical computers, was part of a $79.7 million (58.35-million-euro) research program called "Penetrating Hard Targets."
The report said many in the scientific community had long been seeking to develop quantum computers. The machines would be capable of performing several calculations at once, rather than in a single stream.
While it is unclear how the NSA's progress compared to that of private efforts, one expert cited by the newspaper said it was unlikely the US agency could be close to creating the machine without the knowledge of the scientific community.
"It seems improbable that the NSA could be that far ahead of the open world without anybody knowing it," Scott Aaronson of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said.
The Post said the NSA declined to comment on the report.
US debates legality of data collection
Snowden triggered widespread outrage earlier this year when he leaked information on huge US surveillance programs targeting phone records and internet communications of private citizens. The United States has since charged him with espionage, with the possibility that further charges could follow. He is now living in Russia, where he has been granted a year's asylum.
His revelations prompted widespread debate about the balance between individual privacy and the battle against terrorism in US society.
Last week a US district court ruled that the NSA's collection of so-called metadata on phone usage by US citizens was legal. That came days after another US judge said collecting and storing metadata - information on numbers dialed and the dates and durations of calls, but not audio from the phone calls - likely constituted a breach of the US Constitution. The issue is now likely to move to the US Supreme Court.
Meanwhile US President Barack Obama is currently reviewing recommendations on proposed changes to US surveillance programs leveled by Snowden, and is expected to announce reforms next month.
ccp/jlw (AFP, Reuters)