Encryption backdoors? Lawmakers say they’re not good for U.S. national interest

The Encryption Working Group, a bipartisan group of lawmakers formed in March 2016, have concluded what many security experts have contended all along: encrypted data is essential to protect personal and private-sector privacy and to maintain economic success.

For about nine months the group met with federal, state, and local governments, former government officials, private industry and trade associations, civil society organizations, consultants and legal experts, academia, and cryptographers, according to this press statement. “These meetings have produced critical information, culminating in a year-end report that lays out four key observations and identifies several areas for future discussion next Congress,” the statement says.

The Encryption Working Group was formed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Ranking Member John Conyers Jr. (D-MI), House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), and Ranking Member Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ).

Last week the group published its year-end report that details key observations regarding mandated encryption backdoors.

The report concludes what most cybersecurity experts already knew, that the challenges and conflicting interests around encryption for lawful use are both complex and necessary and can’t be irrevocably damaged:

“Encryption is inexorably tied to our national interests. It is a safeguard for our personal secrets and economic prosperity. It helps to prevent crime and protect national security. The widespread use of encryption technologies also complicates the missions of the law enforcement and intelligence communities. As described in this report, those complications cannot be ignored. This is the reality of modern society. We must strive to find common ground in our collective responsibility: to prevent crime, protect national security, and provide the best possible conditions for peace and prosperity.

“That is why this can no longer be an isolated or binary debate. There is no ‘us versus them,’ or ‘pro-encryption versus law enforcement.’ This conversation implicates everyone and everything that depends on connected technologies—including our law enforcement and intelligence communities. This is a complex challenge that will take time, patience, and cooperation to resolve.  The potential consequences of inaction—or overreaction—are too important to allow historical or ideological perspectives to stand in the way of progress.”

The report concluded:

  1. Any measure that weakens encryption works against the national interest.
  2. Encryption technology is a global technology that is widely and increasingly available around the world.
  3. The variety of stakeholders, technologies, and other factors create different and divergent challenges with respect to encryption and the “going dark” phenomenon, and therefore there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the encryption challenge.
  4. Congress should foster cooperation between the law enforcement community and technology companies.

The Encryption Working Group believes the next Congress should look into “opportunities to help law enforcement agencies navigate the process of accessing information from private companies; examining options to improve law enforcement’s ability to leverage metadata; reviewing the circumstances, resources and legal framework necessary to help law enforcement agencies exploit existing flaws in digital products; considering the implications of alternative legal strategies such as compelling individual consumers to decrypt their devices, and the role of encryption in fostering greater data security and privacy.”

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