Quoted: Apple, Google and big coalition urge Obama to support encryption

“If they couldn’t pull it off at the end of the Cold War, they sure as hell aren’t going to pull it off now.”

Richard A. Clarke, who signed a letter sent to President Obama today by Apple, Google, Facebook and nearly 150 other advocacy groups, companies and security experts, urging the president to reject law enforcement’s calls for technology “backdoors” that would allow access to encrypted information on smartphones and other devices. Clarke was referring to a 1990s attempt to have phone companies build backdoors into encrypted voice calls.

Clarke, a former cybersecurity adviser to President George W. Bush, is now a member of an advisory group formed by Obama in 2013 after the Edward Snowden leaks that revealed mass NSA spying and government snooping into tech companies’ data. Tech companies have stepped up their privacy efforts in response, with Apple and Google last year encrypting information on their smartphones by default.

As I wrote last year, law enforcement agencies and spy types weren’t happy about that. FBI Director James Comey said the companies were placing themselves “above the law” and that encryption would make it harder to fight crime and terrorism.

Those who support encryption argue that giving one government backdoors access is like giving everyone else a key, too. And today’s letter points out that it’s hypocritical of the U.S. government to complain about other countries pushing for backdoors if it is pushing for the same thing. (China has also pointed out a double standard.)

“If American companies maintain the ability to unlock their customers’ data and devices on request, governments other than the United States will demand the same access, and will also be emboldened to demand the same capability from their native companies. The U.S. government, having made the same demands, will have little room to object.”

Which way might President Obama lean? Earlier this year, he addressed the issue, calling tech companies “patriots” that would help “solve the problem” of accessing terrorism suspects’ information.

But today’s letter was designed to force the president to clarify his position and take action.

“The Administration faces a critical choice: will it adopt policies that foster a global digital ecosystem that is more secure, or less?” the letter reads. “That choice may well define the future of the Internet in the 21st century.”

Meanwhile, a report in March said the CIA has been trying to break the security of Apple products and install backdoors into apps for years.

 

Illustration from MCT archives

 

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  • WAM

    I submit that this is a true axis of evil – owebama? – Yuck!

 
 
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