“Back Doors” in Encrypted Technology for the Government Will Harm National Security and Privacy

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 8.32.43 AMBy Michael Huggins

In the wake of an international controversy over government surveillance, U.S. technology companies have developed end-to-end encryption for users who want to send information. End-to-end encryption gives the sender and the recipient decryption keys for a piece of data or a message. Without these decryption keys, law enforcement officials cannot access the data or the message. Even with lawfully authorized access to the information, end-to-end encryption may allow criminals to keep their communications secret from the government. Additionally, the United States and other nations have expressed concerns that encryption will provide secure communications to terrorist organizations. 

In Great Britain, Parliament is considering requiring companies to build “back doors” or decryption technology that allows the government to access the products for public safety or law enforcement purposes. China has proposed similar policies to monitor the criminal activity of its citizens. Pakistan has blocked Blackberry, which provides encryption by default. Countries are starting to recognize the importance of law enforcement being able to decrypt a coded communication under some legal authority. However, many security experts believe that building “back doors” or special access for the government will damage the world’s technological infrastructure.

Requiring duplicate keys or “back doors” for lawful government access could create more entry points for hackers to enter and attack. According to a new paper written by fourteen of the world’s preeminent cryptographers and computer scientists, such access will open doors through which criminals and malicious nation-states can attack the very individuals and institutions law enforcement seeks to defend. Furthermore, giving the government access to encrypted materials will also damage individual privacy.

Handing governments a key to encrypted communications would also require an extraordinary degree of trust. Michael Chertoff, former secretary of Homeland Security, thinks that it is “a mistake to require companies that are making hardware and software to build a duplicate key or a back door even if you hedge it with the notion that there’s going to be a court order.” Edward Snowden’s revelations about the United States’ surveillance indicate that the U.S. government is willing to access personal information without a warrant pursuant to the 4th Amendment. Although law enforcement officials argue that encryption thwarts their efforts to monitor criminals, national security should not outweigh our right to privacy.

Providing “back doors” in encrypted technology to the government weakens both national security and privacy. This will subsequently increase the number of open doors that hackers can access, and will also give the U.S. government more power to invade citizens’ privacy without a warrant. With the recognition that encryption has made this debate on national security and privacy more difficult, I believe that we should prevent the government from gaining more access to encrypted messages.

Image Source: http://cdni.wired.co.uk/1920×1280/d_f/encryption_1.jpg.

One thought on ““Back Doors” in Encrypted Technology for the Government Will Harm National Security and Privacy

  1. While I agree that requiring duplicate keys or backdoors for government access could create more entry points for hackers, I don’t understand why operators of secure messaging services would provide such access in the first place if they’re not forced to by law. And since there’s no global law, this whole approach seems preposterous. Take, for example, Threema, my messenger of choice, which is based in Switzerland. If Great Britain chooses to require government access, they won’t care. Then what? Is Great Britain going to ban any such messenger? Every single one? How?

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