Encryption – Privacy versus Homeland Security

There are a few non-cyber security law enforcement officials who have renewed their call to require service and hardware providers like Google and Apple to provide “backdoors” on their devices and in their apps. The stated reason is so that law enforcement can more easily spy on terrorists and lesser criminals.

The reason that so many services now provide end-to-end encryption with no backdoor is because the government was monitoring the communications of everyone, whether they were a suspect or not and whether or not there was a warrant from a judge. In the vacuum of protection created by a lack of governmental oversight on this intelligence gathering, corporations stepped in as the unlikely heroes of consumer rights. I don’t know of anyone in technology who believes that this was anything more than a response to governmental overreach.

So now, protectors of our physical safety have lost a potential tool directly as a result of their failure to protect our right to privacy. In the wake of recent events, there is a heightened sense of the need to provide greater protection of our physical safety and, therefore, panicked calls for these backdoors to be made available.

Nothing has been done to restore our faith that these backdoors would not again be abused to invade our privacy without a warrant. It is almost a certain outcome of restoring these backdoors that the government will continue their unfettered snooping.

Any backdoor the government could use could also be used by hackers both foreign and domestic. In light of the complete inability of the government to protect the most sensitive information about their employees in the OPM hack or even the President’s email there is no reason to think that these backdoors would not increase our cyber vulnerability.

If it were the case that only apps with backdoors could be downloaded from iTunes or Google Play, terrorists would just use apps that they side-loaded directly onto their devices sidestepping the stores. If side-loading is blocked by the operating system, terrorists will just root their device and add their own operating system.

In short, removing security from our devices to make government snooping easier is too much like outlawing locks on our doors. Of course, that makes our homes easier to search but it also makes our families less safe.

Tyrants hope we will act foolishly and yield our power to them in order to feel safe in times of crisis. Later we would realize that the tyrants themselves were just as grave a danger to our way of life. I just want to tip my hat to companies like Apple and Google who are standing up in our defense with regard to an issue few in government seem to fully grasp.

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