We don’t need government minders in our private conversations. That’s because private conversations, whether they happen offline or online, aren’t a public safety menace. They’re not an invitation to criminality, or terrorism, or a threat to children, no matter how many times those tired old lines get repeated.
Unfortunately, federal law enforcement officials have not stopped asking for backdoor access to Americans’ encrypted messages. FBI Director Christopher Wray did it again just last month, falsely claiming that end-to-end encryption and “user-only access” have “negligible security advantages” but have a “negative effect on law enforcement’s ability to protect the public.”
This year, there’s something we can do about it. Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) and Rep. Peter Meijer (R-MI) have put forward language that would ban federal money from being used to weaken security standards or introduce vulnerabilities into software or hardware.
Last year, the House of Representatives inserted an amendment in the Defense Appropriations bill that prohibits the use of funds to insert security backdoors. That provision targeted the NSA. This year’s proposal will cover a much broader range of federal agencies. It also includes language that would prevent the government from engaging in schemes like client-side scanning or a “ghost” proposal, which would undermine encryption without technically decrypting data.
Secure and private communications are the backbone of democracy and free speech around the world. If U.S. law enforcement is able to compel private companies to break encryption, criminals and authoritarian governments will be eager to use the same loopholes. There are no magic bullets, and no backdoors that will only get opened by the “good guys.”
It’s important that as many members of Congress as possible sign on as supporters of this proposal. We need to send a strong signal to federal law enforcement that they should, once and for all, stop insisting they should scan all of our messages. To get there, we need your help.