On Encryption VS Security

There has been a debate going on behind the scenes, or not so behind the scenes: the political legislatures vs. technologists pertaining to encryption.

There are bad people in the world, communicating to plan bad things. Law enforcement used to be able to get warrants and peer into those communications, safe-houses, or property. Today, when encryption is done right, they can’t. So we’re not safe; unless, the people implementing secure encryption implement ”backdoors” in the encryption that will enable law enforcement to access what they need when they want.

That’s the pitch.

I could get into the abuses, already perpetuated through “backdoors” (thanks Snowden). But that’s a different point to be made.

I could also get into how backdoors would fundamentally undermine encryption, the technology that protects all our data.

But I want to point out here the fundamental issue with drawing a comparison between the ability to use a warrant to monitor communications and putting a backdoor into encryption.

Requiring backdoors in encryption is like requiring electricians to install dormant cameras, that can be turned on if a warrant is granted, inside the homes of people who want electricity. Since the transference of data from one place to another, i.e. digital communications, facilitates everything we do technologically, we use encryption to protect everything we do.

Legislatures tasked with keeping their constituents safe, for the most part, do not necessarily have high level of expertise in technology. They’re (supposed to be) experts at creating policy by listening to the smartest people in the various fields they are legislating for.

Security experts working with them are saying: if you want to prevent another 9-11 we need to be able to collect all communication and read it, now we can’t read it because of encryption so encryption is bad.

What politician would turn down an argument like that? Which leader would want to relax restrictions if there is the slightest chance that that would open the door for another mass terrorist attack? But that’s really all they’re hearing.

Who’s whispering in the legislators ear from the technology camp countering the inaccurate advice being given by the security community?

I happen to agree with what Hillary Clinton said at the third democratic debate that: “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”.

Let’s work with the legislators, and get the smartest people together to partake in the dialogue. If we don’t, how can we expect the policy makers to understand the tech community’s perspective, and how wrong the backdoor approach is.

In the book Hard Choices, in the context of surveillance, Hillary Clinton quoted Ben Franklin: “He who would trade liberty for some temporary security, deserves neither liberty nor security.”

I agree.