Flip-flopping somewhat on his earlier stance against putting backdoors in software, US President Barack Obama took UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s side in telling tech companies to give government agencies access to encrypted devices and communication. Of course, all in the aid of the fight against terrorism and in the interests of national security. The calls from the world’s top government leaders came after two recent incidents that are directly related or being linked to encryption: the hacking of Sony computers last year and the shooting at newspaper Charlie Hebdo this month.
Though it is understandable that the government would want access to relevant information in the aid of legitimate law enforcement, the problem with this particular “request” is that it practically nullifies the effects of encryption. Having a duplicate key or a backdoor to an encrypted device or service opens them to attack from the outside as well. To some extent, it’s an all or nothing situation. Apple, Google, and many messaging services have started implementing encryption in their products, much to the dismay and even ire of the powers that be.
Last week, the UK Prime Minister put out a call for messaging services like WhatsApp and Snapchat to provide backdoors for his government to get through or risk being banned in the country. Cameron’s stance was placed in the perspective of his bid for re-election, which his rivals and detractors will surely use against him.
In comparison, Obama’s statements were more open to a middle ground, seeking for a technical way to appease both camps, providing users and companies with the privacy and security they need but still letting government eavesdrop. With a proper court order, of course. Such a technical compromise, however, might not exist, some security experts believe. Either you have a watertight security or you have boat with a hole.
Obama’s latest stance goes against his earlier directives for the NSA and similar agencies not to weaken software security, directly or indirectly, as it would also compromise national security in the final analysis. Some have likened Obama’s new stance to that of FBI director James Cormey who has likewise called out tech companies on their new encryption policies. At least he isn’t resorting yet to argumentum ad passiones like some of his minions in the DOJ did.
SOURCE: Wall Street Journal