Guess what happened when Backblaze tried using the NSA for data backup

Nobody seriously believes that the NSA would helpfully give you backup if your hard drive failed. But an employee of the online storage company Backblaze asked anyway.

An excerpt of the NSA's rejection of Yev Pusin's request for a copy of any data the agency has about him.
An excerpt of the NSA's rejection of Yev Pusin's request for a copy of any data the agency has about him. screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

The revelations about the National Security Agency's extensive snooping led some wags to joke that people don't need to pay online backup services because the government has you covered already.

Nobody was serious about the idea, of course, but one online backup company, Backblaze, tried to see if it really was possible anyway. The answer, of course: no.

In June, Backblaze employee Yev Pusin sent the NSA a request under the Freedom of Information Act for a copy of all the agency's data relating to himself.

"Your request is denied because the fact of the existence or non-existence of responsive records is a currently and properly classified matter in accordance with Executive Order 13526, as set forth in Subparagraph (c) of Section 1.4," the NSA responded in a letter to Pusin. The letter also said FOIA information requests can be denied when they involve "matters that are specifically authorized...to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign relations."

Want a more detailed explanation? Dive into the legalese:

Any positive or negative response on a request-by-request basis would allow our adversaries to accumulate information and draw conclusions about NSA's technical capabilities, sources, and methods. Our adversaries are likely to evaluate all public responses related to these programs. Were we to provide positive or negative responses to requests such as yours, our adversaries' compilation of the information provided would reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security.

Backblaze's software encrypts user data before sending it to Backblaze's online storage pods. "Backblaze has not been asked by the NSA (or any other government agency) to provide any information on any of our customers," Backblaze said when some the NSA data-gathering activities came to light.

About the author

Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and covers browsers, Web development, digital photography and new technology. In the past he has been CNET's beat reporter for Google, Yahoo, Linux, open-source software, servers and supercomputers. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces.

 

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