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Tech Giants Lobby Via Letter: Don’t Weaken Encryption Systems

U.S. tech companies are exhorting President Barack Obama not to roll back encryption systems in the wake of a strong and quite public debate over mass surveillance, Reuters reported Tuesday (June 8).

The companies — represented by two trade groups including the Information Technology Industry Council and the Software and Information Industry Association — issued what Reuters termed a “strongly worded letter” to Obama, dated on Monday, that stated opposition to “any policy” that would “undermine encryption.” Among the companies represented by the aforementioned organizations: Google, Apple, IBM and other household tech names. The letter was also sent to the FBI, cabinet officials and the Attorney General’s office.

As has been widely reported, the continuing battle over government access to smartphones and other devices, and the data that traverse them, has been ever-escalating. In the most recent major action, legislation mandated limits to the government’s collection of data and records tied to U.S. citizens’ phone calls. That activity, of course, has in turn been a multi-year outgrowth of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

And, Reuters noted, there’s been two overarching issues at stake: Companies have been entreated by government agencies to allow access “past” encryption defenses in order to investigate possibly illegal activities and suspect individuals, while at the same time not weakening encryption to the point where systems can be hacked.

For the moment the White House has not unveiled specific policy proposals.

But Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, told Reuters that concerns center on “whether the FBI is going to seek legislation that would put limits on development of encryption tools.” One recent action, Martin said, might signal the White House’s position, at least for the near term. The Obama administration appointed Ed Felten as deputy U.S. chief technology officer. That move, said Martin, indicates that Obama “takes seriously the privacy concerns.”

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