The violent events that befell Beirut, Paris, and most recently Nigeria, has once again given rise to the US government’s favorite debate topic with the technology sector: encryption. On the one hand, you have the government calling for a backdoor into all encrypted devices and services. On the other corner, you have tech companies insisting on how dangerous that would be for the very people the government claims to protect. The irony of the matter is that both sides are claiming to fight on the side of security, both personal and national.
From the point of view of the government, it seems almost common sense. They need to know if someone’s planning an attack or, should one already happen, have an unobstructed access to evidence and clues that will lead them to perpetrators. To them, strong encryption that companies are now implementing, most of them triggered by Snowden’s whistleblowing, hampers those objectives. They will even go as far as claiming that encryptions will cost lives.
The tech companies are, of course, of a different opinion. The crux of their argument is that a backdoor, like physical backdoors, gives access to both the good guys as well as the bad. It’s not something that can be kept quiet. Once it is known that the government has a special key to such encrypted networks or devices, it will only be a matter of time before criminal elements crack it open as well.
This is the main argument that the Information Technology Industry Council is making in its latest statement addressed once more to the US government. The ITIC bills itself as the global voice of the technology industry, comprised of over 60 tech companies, including Google, Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, and Samsung, just to name a few. Here is their statement in full:
“Encryption is a security tool we rely on everyday to stop criminals from draining our bank accounts, to shield our cars and airplanes from being taken over by malicious hacks, and to otherwise preserve our security and safety. We deeply appreciate law enforcement’s and the national security community’s work to protect us, but weakening encryption or creating backdoors to encrypted devices and data for use by the good guys would actually create vulnerabilities to be exploited by the bad guys, which would almost certainly cause serious physical and financial harm across our society and our economy. Weakening security with the aim of advancing security simply does not make sense.”
That said, some might say that the tech companies’ position might also be self-serving, Many of them, like Google, Microsoft, and Apple, have businesses that can only be possible if there is an assumption of privacy for their customers. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel that will satisfy both camps.