Johns Hopkins apologizes for yanking prof's NSA blog

After a professor's blog post was censored based on claims it linked to classified government documents, the university says it reacted "too quickly" on "inadequate" and "incorrect information."

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
3 min read

Johns Hopkins University is now aiming to prove it made a mistake in trying to censor a professor's blog post about the National Security Agency. After a back-and-forth on Monday, the dean of the university's Whiting School of Engineering wrote an apologetic letter to the professor.

"I write to apologize for any difficulty I caused you yesterday over the post on your blog. I realize now that I acted too quickly, on the basis of inadequate and -- as it turns out -- incorrect information," Dean Andrew Douglas wrote. "I requested that you take down the post without adequately checking that information and without first providing you with an opportunity to correct it."

The whole debacle began after major news stories spread across the Web on Thursday detailing claims that the NSA has been setting up a clandestine program to break digital encryptions for everything from users' smartphones to everyday e-mails to medical records.

Professor Matthew Green, who is a well-known cryptographer and research professor at Johns Hopkins, penned a blog post about the NSA's alleged capabilities to defeat encryption on that same day -- it was published both on his personal Google Blogger site and the university's mirror site. On Monday, Green was asked by Hopkins to take down the mirror site's post because it allegedly linked to classified NSA documents.

However, hours later, when the school realized Green was just linking to news articles -- he was allowed to reinstate the blog post. Green's post was strongly worded as he wrote, "the NSA has been doing some very bad things" and speculated that the government agency is indeed working to weaken or break digital encryptions.

Douglas wrote in his letter that he respect's Green's work in the field of information security and he did not mean to "undeservedly undercut" Green's reputation as a scholar and scientist.

"As an academic and as a member of the faculty at Johns Hopkins for 30 years, I am wholly supportive of academic freedom and keenly aware of its centrality to our enterprise," Douglas wrote. "I am also aware of the contributions you are making to your field of information security and of the relevance of your comments to the important public debate that is now under way."

For his part, Green seems satisfied with the apology. He tweeted earlier today, "I just received a very kind formal apology from the Interim Dean of JHU Whiting School of Engineering."

Green also wrote a new blog post about the NSA, the Edward Snowden document leaks, and what he feels the country needs to do to fix the problem.

"The NSA has made a terrible set of mistakes. These range from policy decisions to technical direction, all the way to matter of their own internal security. I believe there may have been a time when these mistakes could have been mitigated or avoided, but that time has passed..." Green wrote. "Downplaying the extent of the damage, or trying to restrict access to (formerly) classified documents does nobody any good. It's time to start fixing things."

(Via The Wall Street Journal)