During a hearing in the European Parliament on mass surveillance last month (11 November), Nils Torvalds, MEP and father of Linus Torvalds, tells how his son was approached by the NSA and asked to install a back door into the open source operating system.
‘When my eldest son was asked the same question, ‘Has he been approached by the NSA about back doors?’ he said ‘no’, but at the same time he nodded because then he was sort of in the legal free. He had given the right answer and everybody understood that the NSA had approached them.’
Linus Torvalds was the principle force behind the development, and the chief architect of the Linux kernel, and was co-awarded the 2012 Millennium Technology Prize by the Technology Academy Finland ‘in recognition of his creation of a new open source operating system for computers leading to the widely used Linux kernel’.
Although Linus’ answer to the NSA was not given by Nils, we can probably assume that he explained Linux was an open source Operating System, and therefore that any back door built into the software would be discovered when independently peer-reviewed by Linux’s many qualified users.
The revelation came immediately after Swedish Pirate Party MEP Christian Engström pointed out to a Microsoft representative that as its software is not open source and therefore not open to public scrutiny, there is no way of knowing whether a back door has been built into it. When asked directly whether she would be legally allowed to admit there was a back door in Microsoft software, the representative (unsurprisingly) declined to answer.
What is clear to us is that if the NSA wanted to build a back door into the relatively obscure open source Linux OS, then we can take it as given that the tech giants Microsoft and Apple, with their secret proprietary code, have allowed the NSA to compromise their software.