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

posted by in Cybersecurity, Privacy July 8, 2015
Jul 08

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.

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