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Overheard in the Press: Encryption Backdoor Debate

Overheard in the Press: Encryption Backdoor Debate

encryption backdoor
August 2, 2019 | Scott Carter

Last month Attorney General William P. Barr warned that increased encryption of data on phones, computers and messaging apps is putting American security at risk. The reason? Law enforcement officials are increasingly unable to access information on devices, and between devices, even even if they are armed with warrants that show probable cause of criminal activity. To counter this threat, he wants technology companies to stop using advanced encryption and other security measures that effectively turn devices into “law-free zones.”


Instead, he would like to add eavesdropping mechanisms to consumer-level software and devices. This would allow investigators to forcibly decrypt and access end-to-end encrypted communications, such as chats, emails, files and calls. The Register warns that by introducing backdoors, “hackers and spies, as well as the cops and FBI, can potentially leverage to snoop on folks.”


Indeed, the resulting press coverage rekindled a long-standing debate about government mandated encryption backdoors. In this blog post, I’ve assembled some of the most striking quotes that have been flying about in the past few weeks for your perusal.



What is U.S. Attorney General William Barr saying?

 “[W]e must ensure that we retain society’s ability to gain lawful access to data and communications when needed to respond to criminal activity.”
“The Fourth Amendment strikes a balance between the individual citizen’s interest in conducting certain affairs in private and the general public’s interest in subjecting possible criminal activity to investigation.”
“Our societal response to advances in technology that affect the balance between individual privacy and public safety always has been — and always should be — a two-way street.”
 –New York Times

 “We are not talking about protecting the nation’s nuclear launch codes…We are talking about consumer products and services such as messaging, smart phones, email, and voice and data applications.”
“The key point is that the individual’s right to privacy and the [police's] right of access are two sides of the same coin.”  
The Register

‘‘There have been enough dogmatic pronouncements that lawful access simply cannot be done…It can be, and it must be.’’
Boston Globe

 “The status quo is exceptionally dangerous, it is unacceptable and only getting worse.”
Voice of America

How is Democratic Senator Ron Wyden responding?

“Once you weaken encryption with a backdoor, you make it far easier for criminals, hackers and predators to get into your digital life.”
“it is clear to me that [Barr and Trump] cannot be trusted with this kind of power.”
Voice of America

“Barr today raised a tired, debunked plan to blow a hole in one of the most important security features protecting Americans’ digital lives.”
MIT Technology Review


What is FBI Director Christopher Wray saying?

“…our requests can’t be assessed in a vacuum.”
 “I get frustrated when I hear people suggest that we are trying to weaken encryption or weaken cybersecurity more broadly.”

 “It cannot be a sustainable end state for us to be creating an unfettered space that’s beyond lawful access for terrorists, hackers, and child predators to hide.”
“How do you propose to ensure that the hardworking men and women of law enforcement sworn to protect you and your families maintain lawful access to the information they need to do their jobs?”
The Register


How are crytpographers and lawyers responding?

“There is no safe backdoor solution on the table,”
–Cryptographer Matthew Green in MIT Technology Review

“Barr’s argument that the personal and commercial data protected by encryption isn’t all that important and that software security risks aren’t that big a deal is so flat-earth bizarre that I don’t even know where to begin.”
 –Cryptography expert Matt Blaze in The Register

“There is no way to give the F.B.I. access to encrypted communications without giving the same access to every government on the planet.”
“Technology providers should continue to make their products as safe as possible and resist pressure from all governments to undermine the security of the tools they offer.”
–Brett Max Kaufman, American Civil Liberties Union in New York Times



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About the author

Scott Carter
Scott Carter

Scott is Senior Manager for Content Marketing at Venafi. With over 20 years in cybersecurity marketing, his expertise leads him to help large organizations understand the risk to machine identities and why they should protect them

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