What do a voice identifier, an automated translator, a “tamper-indicating” document tube, and a supersecure manhole cover have in common? They’re all technologies for which the secretive National Security Agency (NSA) has been granted patents by the U.S. government, giving the agency the exclusive rights to its inventions.
The four technologies represent a tiny fraction of the more than 270 sleuthy devices, methods, and designs for which the nation’s biggest intelligence agency has been granted a patent since 1979, the earliest year for which public figures are available. As the patent holder, the NSA can license the particular technology — for a fee — to anyone who wants to use it, so long as the patent hasn’t expired.
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