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For the past 10 months, a major international scandal has engulfed some of the world's largest employers of mathematicians. These organisations stand accused of law-breaking on an industrial scale and are now the object of widespread outrage. How has the mathematics community responded? Largely by ignoring it.

Those employers – the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the UK's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) – have been systematically monitoring as much of our lives as they can, including our emails, texts, phone and Skype calls, web browsing, bank transactions and location data. They have tapped internet trunk cables, bugged charities and political leaders, conducted economic espionage, hacked cloud servers and disrupted lawful activist groups, all under the banner of national security. The goal, to quote former NSA director Keith Alexander, is to "collect all the signals, all the time".

The standard justification for this mass surveillance is to avert terrorism. US officials repeatedly claimed that mass surveillance had thwarted 54 attacks. But the NSA eventually admitted it was more like one or two; its best example was an alleged $8500 donation to a terrorist group.

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