End encryption, Obama implores

Good luck with this one. Reminds me of the joke about the moron who kept on running in front of a bus only to suffer fractures and contusions, but continues anyway. When he realizes the danger and stupidity of his actions, he relents and vows to never get hit by a bus. Shortly thereafter he gets sent to the hospital after running in front of a truck. He is baffled at being injured again- after all it wasn’t a bus! This what it must feel like addressing the Obama administration on matters supporting privacy only to be whipsawed by the outcome.

But, to their credit, privacy proponents persist in making their case. In the latest example of this, Apple and Google, along with other tech giants and noted cryptologists, have signed a letter (.pdf) to the Obama administration, urging the US government to preserve strong encryption in the face of pressure from law enforcement and surveillance agencies.

We all recall with amusement the dizzying discourse by FBI Director James Comey a few months back, when he at warp speed both encouraged companies to use stronger encryption, then reversed field and demanded backdoor access to spy agencies and law enforcement, while admonishing Apple’s and Google’s decision to turn on encryption by default.

The letter, obtained by the Washington Post, is the most recent plea where industry and experts argue that “strong encryption is the cornerstone of the modern information economy’s security.” and that the government should “fully support and not undermine efforts to create encryption standards that in any way subvert, undermine, weaken or make vulnerable” commercial software.

Adding impetus to the missive is the signature of three of the five members of Obama’s review group established in 2013 to reassess technology in the wake of Edward Snowden’s disclosures that summer. A companion article, appearing soon on BestVPN, will revisit that period, and assess Snowden’s continuing impact on decisions. So look out for it.

Comey points out that encryption by default on many iPhones and other Apple devices, as well as Google’s Android OS, means that neither company will be able to unlock devices made by them or which have their software installed – be they laptops, phones or tablets,

At the outset, Apple says something that is reasonable – that it’s not that big a deal … Apple argues, for example, that its users can back up and store much of their data in ‘the cloud’ and that the FBI can still access that data with lawful authority. But uploading to the cloud doesn’t include all of the stored data on a bad guy’s phone, which has the potential to create a black hole for law enforcement.”

In an ideal world (at least according to Comey), companies could provide solid, safe encryption that had “soft” backdoors friendly to law enforcement. A campaigning David Cameron championed this possibility, but the companies who operate in the real world maintain that this is not feasible. Moreover, they argue that even if they could provide such backdoor access for law enforcement, it would also be penetrable by the bad guys.

So the drumbeat by the Obama administration to end encryption is just another pipe-dream conjured up to placate a gullible electorate. You would think they would be wise to such obvious ploys by now…

Stan Ward has enjoyed writing for 50 years. Writing has been a comfortable companion to a successful business and teaching career for him. Find him on Google+.

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