BY VIKAS BAJAJ
NEW YORK TIMES
In recent months top American and British political leaders have been arguing that there should be no encrypted communication system that they cannot unlock whenever they deem it necessary to do so. Officials like the director of the National Security Agency, Michael Rogers, and Prime Minister David Cameron have said that unless technology companies grant them the technical equivalent of a back door to snoop on encrypted communications, the world’s bad guys will “go dark” and become untraceable.
Now, 13 prominent encryption and information security experts have responded with an important report that explains in plain English why what Mr. Rogers and Mr. Cameron are asking for would be terrible for the Internet.
To start, giving governments back-door access to encrypted technologies like email servers, video chats, online banking services and so on would make those systems much more vulnerable to hacking. Furthermore, giving encryption keys to governments would increase the risk of those keys being stolen by criminals and spies from other countries.
There is yet another big problem: How should technology companies decide which governments they should give back-door access to? If the United States and Britain have access to, say, all of Google’s encrypted servers, the governments of China, Russia and many other nations will surely demand similar privileges. Or should Western tech companies simply stop doing business in some foreign countries?
This is hardly a new debate. In the 1990s, the Clinton administration proposed requiring the tech industry to use the Clipper chip, a device that would help the government decrypt communications. Businesses, technical experts and civil liberties groups defeated that effort by showing that hackers and criminals could easily exploit that system.
Not having such an invasive back door into Internet-based communications systems has hardly hurt the government’s ability to conduct surveillance. In fact, Edward Snowden revealed that American and British agencies have had extensive access to our communications for years. If anybody has been kept in the dark, it is ordinary citizens.