Ellen Nakashima of The Washington Post reports how Apple, Google, and leading cryptographers are among a group of US tech companies urging President Obama to reject government proposals requiring software backdoors for encrypted communications:
FBI and Justice Department officials say they support the use of encryption but want a way for officials to get the lawful access they need.
Many technologists say there is no way to do so without building a separate key to unlock the data — often called a “backdoor,” which they say amounts to a vulnerability that can be exploited by hackers and foreign governments.
The letter is signed by three of the five members of a presidential review group appointed by Obama in 2013 to assess technology policies in the wake of leaks by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden. The signatories urge Obama to follow the group’s unanimous recommendation that the government should “fully support and not undermine efforts to create encryption standards” and not “in any way subvert, undermine, weaken or make vulnerable” commercial software.
Here is the crux of the issue:
The issue is not simply national, said Rivest, a computer science professor at MIT who signed the letter. “Once you make exceptions for U.S. law enforcement, you’re also making exceptions for the British, the French, the Israelis and the Chinese, and eventually it’ll be the North Koreans.”
The signatories include policy experts who normally side with national-security hawks. Paul Rosenzweig, a former Bush administration senior policy official at the Department of Homeland Security, said: “If I actually thought there was a way to build a U.S.-government-only backdoor, then I might be persuaded. But that’s just not reality.”
Rosenzweig said that “there are other capabilities” that law enforcement can deploy. They will be “less satisfying,” he said, but “they will make do.”
What it boils down to is convenience: US law enforcement agencies want the quickest and easiest method of obtaining access to encrypted data. Thankfully, Congress seems uninterested in such legislation so its doubtful there is much to worry about. However, being armed with the knowledge this capability is being peddled as a potential law is something we all need to be abreast of so we can take the necessary actions to stop such stupidity should it become necessary.