Obama’s position on encryption is now public, as reported by the Washington Post. According to Ellen Nakashima and Andrea Peterson of the Post, Obama “will not —for now—call for legislation requiring companies to decode messages for law enforcement.”
Instead, the Post reports, the “administration will continue trying to persuade companies that have moved to encrypt their customers’ data to create a way for the government to still peer into people’s data when needed for criminal or terrorism investigations.”
While eschewing attempts to legislatively mandate that tech companies build backdoors into their services, the president is continuing the status quo – that is, informally pressuring companies to give the government access to unencrypted data.
Basically, it’s a partial victory for those of us fighting for strong, secure, private communications online.
The SaveCrypto.org coalition—representing more than 50,000 people and over 30 nonprofits and companies—has called on Obama to stand strong against attempts to undermine encryption. Specifically, the coalition states that no “legislation, executive order, or private agreement with the government should undermine our rights.”
Obama is taking a step in that direction, and that’s a victory for the technology rights activists across the globe who have come together during this campaign. But it's not enough to acknowledge that a law forcing companies to build backdoors into their users' data is a bad idea. If Obama wants to leave a legacy promoting innovation and consumer privacy, he should create a clear policy position opposing secret, and sometimes informal, agreements between the government and tech companies to undermine security and privacy. Internet users –both in the United States and abroad—deserve to trust their digital service providers, and this step would go a long way to amending the trust rift caused by years of privacy abuses by the NSA.
There’s still time for the president to do the right thing. While Obama seems to have solidified his position for now, he’s also promised to respond to any We the People petition that gets over 100,000 signatures. Help us get there, and tell Obama that undermining encryption—whether through private agreement or through law—undermines the entire Internet. Sign now.