It's a critical moment in the global debate over privacy, security, and “backdoors” in encryption technology. Despite all that attention, President Obama has yet to come to a public position on backdoors—i.e., the government mandating, coercing, or pressuring companies to design their systems to give it special access to our data. Experts agree that backdoors of any kind would make all of our communications more vulnerable. He is certainly hearing clamoring from the FBI and a handful of their favorite lawmakers, but he may not know how strongly the public supports privacy. The President needs to hear from you today.
The most recent round of law enforcement demands that developers give the government special access to our personal data has frequently been referred to as the Second Crypto Wars, evoking the government’s unsuccessful efforts in the 1990s to limit encryption to expressly broken “key escrow” technologies like the Clipper Chip or deliberately weakened “export grade” encryption.
There are two major differences, though, between the battles of the 1990s and today: first, we know now that law enforcement and national security agencies ignored the public outcry and spent the last decade attempting to undermine our cryptography technologies in secret. And second, the role that secure, end-to-end encryption plays in protecting everybody's privacy has become much more apparent, as invasions of that privacy from the government, from tracker-happy corporations, and from criminals and other bad actors have become commonplace.
Taken together, that means the Second Crypto Wars are being fought not between obscure government agencies and a ragtag collection of cypherpunks. Instead, the skirmishes of this fight land on the front page of major newspapers, and huge swathes of the general public understand the importance of the issue.
These factors have raised the stakes—and they've increased the chances that those of us concerned about privacy can actually win. With more attention, it's become impossible to frame this debate as a simple matter of the government versus the people. Within the government, divisions that understand the importance of security are actively pushing for wider adoption of strong encryption.
But President Obama has not yet drawn a hard line against crypto backdoors or condemned the practice of forcing developers to give the government special access to our data. If he does, it would be a powerful statement to the holdouts in government still arguing that law enforcement access to our communications is more important than our privacy, our security, and our ability to trust the technology we use every day. To help convince him to make that statement, we want to create the most popular petition in his White House platform's history.
The President should speak out against backdoors and other forms of special access for law enforcement, and he should commit his administration to upholding that principle through six basic tenets:
- No backdoor or encryption mandates;
- No key escrow or compelled access mandates;
- No private agreements to prevent companies from implementing strong, end-to-end crypto;
- No weakening of encryption standards;
- Adoption of transparent processes to disclose vulnerabilities; and
- Adoption of a well-understood set of standards and burdens—conceived through public debate and conversation—regarding government hacking.
Lend your voice to this campaign. Tell President Obama to stand up for security and privacy, and say no to backdoors in our technology.