Tech experts oppose government encryption demands

By Nicole Miskelly | 8 July 2015

Technology experts have warned that the demands from UK and US governments for greater powers to crack encrypted private data from could weaken web security and reduce online freedoms, the FT reports.

The warning from tech experts comes after government suggestions that during investigations national security and law enforcement agencies should have the right to access encrypted information.

The FT highlights that since the Edward Snowden leaked information about widespread internet surveillance in the US and UK, there has been a rift between government agencies and the tech industry.

According to the FT, in reaction to the revelations, many tech and internet companies encrypted more of their user’s data which has prompted both governments to call for the technical powers to crack the encryption codes.

Last week, UK Prime Minister David Cameron reiterated his warning that legal action could be used to prevent the use of encrypted mobile messaging apps and FBI director James Comey is expected to also renew his warnings about the spread of strong encryption figures this week, the FT reports.

In a paper relased this week entitled ‘Keys Under Doormats: Mandating insecurity by requiring government access to all data and communications’, fifteen tech experts have said that government demands for special access to encrypted data would put the world’s confidential data and critical infrastructure in danger.

“These proposals are unworkable in practice, raise enormous legal and ethical questions, and would undo progress on security at a time when Internet vulnerabilities are causing extreme economic harm,” the tech experts wrote.

In the report the tech experts also said that the demand for the keys needed to break into encrypted information is the equivalent of leaving the “keys under the doormat” because it would be hard to guarantee that the keys were not misused by others.

The paper also touches on the jurisdiction issues with the government proposals and the experts question whether other countries will be given access to UK law enforcement agencies. “The UK government promises legislation this fall to compel communications service providers, including US-based corporations, to grant access to UK law enforcement agencies, and other countries would certainly follow suit. China has already intimated that it may require exceptional access. If a British-based developer deploys a messaging application used by citizens of China, must it provide exceptional access to Chinese law enforcement?”

They also call the demands “a breathtaking policy reversal” for the US and UK, because it would encourage more repressive countries to crack down on internet freedoms, a situation which is the total opposite to the open internet that the countries have previously supported.


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