Google, Facebook, Tech Firms Urge Obama Not to Undermine Encryption
Wary of the government having back door access all that personal information you have stored digitally? Several major tech firms including Google and Facebook are, and they're urging President Obama to deny special access that would grant law enforcement agencies to bypass certain encryptions.
More than 140 tech companies wrote to the President Tuesday imploring that encryption standards not be compromised in a world where protecting data is becoming evermore important.
"This protection would be undermined by the mandatory insertion of any new vulnerabilities into encrypted devices and services," reads the letter to the President. "Whether you call them 'front doors' or 'back doors,' introducing intentional vulnerabilities into secure products for the government's use will make those products less secure against other attackers. Every computer security expert that has spoken publicly on this issue agrees on this point, including the government's own experts."
The letter comes soon after both Google and Apple took strong stances in favor of encryption. Both companies introduced encryption techniques last year that severely limit access to user data. Devices that aren't encrypted are far more vulnerable and can be accessed by government agencies such as the FBI and even by manufacturers such as Apple. Encrypted devices, however, are harder to crack and typically cannot be broken into easily without a valid warrant.
The government has been in favor of encryption but law enforcement agencies have argued they need special access in order to conduct timely investigations. Computer experts agree that this would require a kind of back door, but that such a vulnerability would also leave devices open to exploitation from hackers and even foreign governments.
"Once you make exceptions for U.S. law enforcement, you're also making exceptions for the British, the French, the Israelis and the Chinese, and eventually it'll be the North Koreans," said Ronald L. Rivest, an MIT computer science professor who signed the letter.
Despite the plea, it's highly unlikely that the law enforcement agencies will win, and even those who typically tout national security's importance are skeptical of introducing a tech back door.
"If I actually thought there was a way to build a U.S.-government-only backdoor, then I might be persuaded. But that's just not reality," said Paul Rosenzweig, a former Bush administration senior policy official at the Department of Homeland Security.
Firms that handle heavy amounts of personal information such as Google and Yahoo announced last year that they would encrypting much of their data, including emails, all the way through. Cybersecurity breaches across the board, including massive retail and insurance leaks, have brought the very real threat of cybertheft to many doorsteps in the United States alone.
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