Security & Fraud

Pro-Encryption Advocates Seek Capitol Hill Support

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In the ongoing battle over the government’s right to access consumer data transmitted via smartphones and digital devices, privacy advocates are calling on support from the White House to fight off lawmakers’ attempts to pass stringent encryption legislation.

As The Hill reported Saturday (Dec. 12), the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, have renewed the efforts of lawmakers to promote a bill that will require companies to decrypt information at the request of law enforcement agencies.

Late last week, the Obama administration held meetings with privacy and civil liberties groups in which it confirmed plans to announce an official stance on the U.S. encryption policy in the near future.

“I’m very hopeful and the White House has been very receptive,” said Kevin Bankston, director of New America’s Open Technology Institute, who attended the meetings with cybersecurity and technology officials from the White House.

“My concern is we’re going to be arguing this every few years unless there’s a definitive statement from the White House,” Bankston said.

The devastating attacks have fueled the fire for an ongoing debate about encrypted data and the major Silicon Valley tech companies’ abilities to provide encrypted messaging tools that provide users with tighter security over their personal data.

While the tech giants argue that stronger encryption tools better protect their consumers, they have also pushed that opening up encryption standards would give cybercriminals the ability to exploit people and would also pave way for police and the government to act as a “big brother” and spy on those people.

“I’m frustrated by this cynical, opportunistic playbook where the intelligence community sits poised to take advantage of whatever tragedy comes along,” Bankston added, “even if the facts on the ground have nothing to do with it.”

Recently, the Information Technology Industry Council (ITIC), released a statement that “Weakening security with the aim of advancing security simply does not make sense.” Members of that council include Apple and Microsoft. Apple, Alphabet, Facebook and other tech companies have kept quiet on the debate recently in light of the sensitivities of the attacks.

Apple itself has confirmed that it is actually incapable of accessing the encrypted data on its latest operating system due to the way its infrastructure is built.

“There are plenty of companies today that provide secure services to their customers and still comply with court orders,” FBI Director James Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. “This is not a technical issue, it is a business model question.”

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