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One example is the encryption featured in Skype, a program used by some 300 million users to conduct Internet video chat that is touted as secure. "Sustained Skype collection began in Feb 2011," reads a National Security Agency (NSA) training document from the archive of whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Less than half a year later, in the fall, the code crackers declared their mission accomplished.

The government has also encouraged members of the German public to take steps to protect their own communication.

An NSA presentation for a conference that took place that year lists the encryption programs the Americans failed to crack.

In the process, the NSA cryptologists divided their targets into five levels corresponding to the degree of the difficulty of the attack and the outcome, ranging from "trivial" to "catastrophic." Monitoring a document's path through the Internet is classified as "trivial." Recording Facebook chats is considered a "minor" task, while the level of difficulty involved in decrypting emails sent through Moscow-based Internet service provider "mail.ru" is considered "moderate." Still, all three of those classifications don't appear to pose any significant problems for the NSA.

Internet activists even hold crypto parties where they teach people who are interested in communicating securely and privately how to encrypt their data.

German officials suggest "consistent encryption" In Germany, concern about the need for strong encryption goes right up to the highest levels of the government.

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US and British intelligence agencies undertake every effort imaginable to crack all types of encrypted Internet communication. The good news: New Snowden documents show that some forms of encryption still cause problems for the NSA.

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