Black Friday

Encryption as a Campaign Issue on the Campaign Trail

Stan Ward

Stan Ward

December 28, 2015

Deviating from the hard line she has taken most of her political life against tech companies and their strong encryption practices, Hillary Clinton recently told Democratic primary TV viewers that the US has to “ balance liberty and security, privacy and safety.” And true to the big-government, free-spending Democrat that she is, her answer is a “Manhattan Project-like program”, a reference to the government’s massive mobilization in building World War II’s atomic bomb. Does this worry anyone else but me?

One thing Hillary Rodham Clinton is not, is a dummy. She is, true to form for a candidate running for office facing a primary challenge with one eye, and a general election with the other, trying to tiptoe tactfully through the minefield that is cybersecurity . Being no dope, HRC is keenly aware that the Millennials, who make up the backbone of potential voters using technology, will for the first time surpass the vast and powerful baby-boom voters in numbers this year. And if these Millennials display a propensity actually to vote, they will constitute a powerful force to be reckoned – a force largely dead-set against government intrusion and weakened encryption.

On the other side, in the crowded Republican contest, each candidate is trying to ’’out-conservative” the other, stridently supporting the government’s attempts at weakening encryption to supposedly strengthen national security. These candidates hope their hard line will garner primary votes – especially in the early, very conservative primary states like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.

Clinton, however, has no real challenger, as Sen. Bernie Sanders slips off the radar screen. Therefore, remarks like the following are less meant for Democratic primary voters who strongly favor her, but for the more centrist general election constituents. Here’s a sample of her tap-dancing during the latest Democratic debate,

“I would hope that, given the extraordinary capacities that the tech community has and the legitimate needs and questions from law enforcement, that there could be a Manhattan-like project, something that would bring the government and the tech communities together to see they’re not adversaries, they’ve got to be partners. It doesn’t do anybody any good if terrorists can move toward encrypted communication that no law enforcement agency can break into before or after. There must be some way. I don’t know enough about the technology, to be able to say what it is, but I have a lot of confidence in our tech experts. Maybe the back door is the wrong door, and I understand what Apple and others are saying about that.

What Apple and others are saying, in so many words is “nuts to you!” – we’re not caving in on this issue. Apple’s Tim Cook, for one, has said that the US doesn’t need to make a trade-off between privacy and national security,

I think that’s an overly simplistic view. We’re America. We should have both.

Cook then pointed out the obvious argument that weakening security technology to appease one faction (law enforcement) enables the ne’er-do-wells better access too.,

There have been people that suggest that we should have a back door. But the reality is if you put a back door in, that back door’s for everybody, for good guys and bad guys.

The only way to protect the vast amounts of information the average citizen has compiled on devices as small as smartphones – financial and health information, private conversations, etc., is to encrypt them. With the way things are playing out in the primaries, Hillary Clinton may well be the next president, though it is still too early to predict with any certainty.

Voters should be forewarned that, at least as it relates to encryption and personal privacy, she may not be any different than her more hawkish Republican adversaries.

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