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Accepting Director Comey’s Call for a Public Debate on Encryption

FBI Director James Comey published a column on July 6, 2015, calling for a robust public debate about the benefits and costs of strong encryption that protects users’ privacy and overall network security. I join Director Comey in that call.

The law enforcement community has raised legitimate concerns about their ability to access information stored electronically.  Our member companies are fully committed to the important mission of law enforcement in keeping Americans safe and investigating criminal activity, and stand ready to do their part. But companies need both clarity about their obligations and the freedom to innovate to meet users’ demands. And we need to ensure that responsibilities imposed on technology companies do not endanger the security of our users’ information, or endanger network security more broadly.

Director Comey writes that the problem with strong encryption is it makes it easier for “bad people” to communicate.  This may well be true, and is a good reason for a public dialogue. Yet as we discuss this issue, let’s remember that encryption also is what empowers good people in repressive regimes to spread freedom and hope. It is what protects our bank records, our health records, and other personal information. And, it is what we need to fend off cyberattacks. If we require tech companies to create “back doors” into our technology, we will be weakening our defenses and providing a gift to cyber-criminals.

The issues involved in encryption are complex and require consideration of all sides. Just today a group of prominent cryptographers published a very detailed reported warning against back doors and other ways to weaken encryption. “Keys Under the Doormat” should be mandatory reading for all of us.

As Director Comey prepares to testify before the Senate, I encourage him to focus on solutions that maintain our network security and users’ personal information.

Victoria Espinel

Author:

Victoria Espinel is a respected authority on the intersection of technology innovation, global markets and public policy. She leads strategic efforts that help shape the technology landscape in 60 countries through work in BSA’s 10 global offices.

Espinel also serves as the President of Software.org: the BSA Foundation. Software.org is an independent and nonpartisan international research organization created to help policymakers and the broader public better understand the impact that software has on our lives, our economy, and our society.

Espinel served for a decade in the White House, for both Republican and Democratic Administrations as President Obama’s advisor on intellectual property and, before that, as the first ever chief US trade negotiator for intellectual property and innovation at USTR. She was also a professor of international trade and intellectual property at the George Mason School of Law.

Espinel is a founding and ongoing co-sponsor of Girls Who Code’s Washington, DC, summer immersion program, which empowers young women to pursue careers in STEM fields. She speaks before audiences around the world to build visibility for the amazing things people can do with software, and encourages businesses, governments, and the public to support a policy environment that will enable even more software breakthroughs.

Espinel chairs the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on the Digital Economy and Society. She was appointed by President Obama to serve on the Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Negotiations (ACTPN), the principal advisory group for the US government on international trade. She holds an LLM from the London School of Economics, a JD from Georgetown University Law School, and a BS in Foreign Service from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriaespinel.

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