An Obama Administration policy that would mandate that companies be restricted to using forms of encryption that provide law enforcement with the means for unscrambled access has sparked a wave of opposition from technology companies, Internet security experts and civil liberties organizations. A coalition of those opposed to the policy sent a letter to the White House stating their opposition to the policy and warning of unintended consequences of any policy that weakens the protection of Internet communications. Some have claimed that unfettered access for law enforcement would ultimately result in unfettered access for everyone, including hackers and other governments.
The letter to President Obama urged him to “reject any proposal that U.S. companies deliberately weaken the security of their products.” The letter was signed by more than 140 tech companies including Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook, as well as dozens of civil liberty, human rights, and press freedom groups, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Human Rights Watch, and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. It was also signed by 60 security and policy experts, including former White House counterterrorism czar Richard A. Clarke.
Many major tech companies have been working on encryption technology that encrypts customers’ communications in such a way that they cannot be monitored by the government without going directly to the customer. Some in law enforcement have argued that the type of encryption technology proposed by the tech companies would damage their ability to investigate crimes. The most vocal critic of tougher encryption has been James B. Comey, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Mr. Comey told an audience, “It’s the equivalent of a closet that can’t be opened. A safe that can’t be cracked. And my question is, at what cost?”
The proposal by the government would require part of the encryption key to be turned over to the government while the other part of the key would be retained by the company. Michael S. Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, spoke about the proposal in a recent speech at Princeton University. However, other National Security Agency review group members recommended that the government support efforts to advance strong encryption.