One of the biggest debates happening at the intersection of technology and privacy at the moment revolves around the U.S. government’s fear that the American peasantry may gain access to strong encryption in order to protect their private communications. Naturally, this isn’t something Big Brother wants to see, and the “solution” proposed by the status quo revolves around forcing technology companies to provide a way for the state to have access to all secure communications when they deem it necessary.
Many technology experts have come out strongly against this plan. Leaving aside the potential civil liberties implications of giving the lawless maniacs in political control such power, there’s the notion that if you create access for one group of entitled people, you weaken overall security. Not to mention the fact that if the U.S. claims the right to such privileged access, all other countries will demand the same in return, thus undermining global privacy rights and technology safeguards.
We are already seeing this play out in embarrassing fashion. Once again highlighting American hypocrisy and shortsightedness, as well as demonstrating that the U.S. government does’t actually stand for anything, other than the notion that “might means right.” Sad.
When the US demands technology companies install backdoors for law enforcement, it’s okay. But when China demands the same, it’s a whole different story.
The Chinese government is about to pass a new counter terrorism law that would require tech companies operating in the country to turn over encryption keys and include specially crafted code in their software and hardware so that chinese authorities can defeat security measures at will.
Technologists and cryptographers have long warned that you can’t design a secure system that will enable law enforcement—and only law enforcement—to bypass the encryption. The nature of a backdoor door is that it is also a vulnerability, and if discovered, hackers or foreign governments might be able to exploit it, too.
Yet, over the past few months, several US government officials, including the FBI director James Comey, outgoing US Attorney General Eric Holder, and NSA Director Mike Rogers, have all suggested that companies such as Apple and Google should give law enforcement agencies special access to their users’ encrypted data—while somehow offering strong encryption for their users at the same time.
“You can’t have it both ways,” Trevor Timm, the co-founder and the executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, told Motherboard. “If the US forces tech companies to install backdoors in encryption, then tech companies will have no choice but to go along with China when they demand the same power.”
A White House spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment from Motherboard.
“It’s stunningly shortsighted for the FBI and NSA not to realize this,” Timm added. “By demanding backdoors, these US government agencies are putting everyone’s cybersecurity at risk.”
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