FBI Wants to Ban Secure Internet using Backdoors

John Lister's picture

Some of the largest tech firms are urging President Obama to drop plans to make it easier for law enforcement and security agencies to access Internet communications. They say the President should resist any idea for such firms to implement mandatory "backdoors."

The proposal means that firms are only allowed to use encryption if they also build in a way that makes it possible for law enforcement groups to access the data in an unencrypted form. The "key" to unlock the data would effectively be split into two parts: one held by the Internet firm, and the other by the government. Only if both sides acted together -- which would likely follow a court order -- would they be able to unlock the data without the user's cooperation.

Unbreakable Encryption Favors Criminals

Officials believe the move is necessary because many firms are now offering enhanced encryption in their services, particularly in messaging apps. In some cases, the service provider can't decrypt the data even if they want to, or are legally required to. Instead, the data remains completely locked until the user provides the relevant password or security code.

Agencies such as the FBI believe that's a threat to security. They argue that it creates too much danger, where criminals and terrorists are able to plot in total secrecy, compromising law enforcement and security operations. They also say Internet technology should fall under the same rules as voice calls and ordinary text messaging, such that providers must have the technical ability to allow monitoring where needed.

Loopholes a Risk, say Tech Giants

That holds no water with the authors of a letter sent to President Obama this week. It's signed by more than 140 tech companies including Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft. It's also signed by numerous civil liberty groups and around 60 individuals with particular expertise in Internet security, including members of an official panel that reviews the National Security Agency's (NSA) policy. (Source: nytimes.com)

The letter says "We urge you to reject any proposal that U.S. companies deliberately weaken the security of their products. We request that the White House instead focus on developing policies that will promote, rather than undermine, the wide adoption of strong encryption technology." (Source: go.com)

The signatories believe that building "backdoors" into encryption is a threat to online security. If details were to fall into the wrong hands, it's possible cybercriminals or foreign agencies could gain dangerous levels of access to sensitive data.

What's Your Opinion?

Should Obama go ahead with the proposals to implement mandatory encryption backdoors? Is it too dangerous to allow people to communicate in a way that can never be monitored by law enforcement officials? Or, does the right to privacy trump all? Is there too much risk that backdoors could be exploited by wrongdoers?

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Dennis Faas's picture

First, the idea that the FBI or NSA will seek permission (using court orders) to snoop on communications seems completely ludicrous. Based on past history, they will snoop regardless of the circumstance.

Secondly, this seems like an incredibly bad idea. If the backdoor keys are ever compromised, everything will go to hell in a handbasket.

Some IT Guy's picture

In as much as I wouldn't want to be attacked by terrorists, I also feel strongly about have personal privacy. We have already given up so much of our personal freedoms in the name of security and national defense. We cannot protect everyone from everyone.

georgegrimes's picture

This is a HORRIBLE idea!

matt_2058's picture

I believe Mr Faas is right. Snooping will happen with and without court orders if they can do it. This will allow unrestricted access as presented.

We are talking about having access to all info of everyone and everything digital on this earth. We don't trust running our governments to two people, why give the keys to the world to two entities?

It's a very bad idea to start with. But, to be fair, the idea needs to be explored to have a great argument against it. The personal privacy reason will not cut it when the example is a vacation picture vs. saving hundreds or thousands of lives. But that is not what has happened with the government having access. They've decided to scan and catalog everything. That is what's unacceptable.

Ideally, having a backdoor is something for keeping you from being locked out of your own stuff or peering into it. I can't think of any reason to put a backdoor in so someone else can get to your stuff. The problem is that the someone else rarely has enough justification to allow the access.

Anyone who's had significant interaction with security matters knows that having two parts to the key is not enough when talking about something on this scale. There are too many players with access to one part to bully their way to the other part. Or for one side to not follow proper procedure. Something like this would need the key to be more compartmented. How about 10-20 players agreeing. Like a panel of 10-20 from the industry leaders. And specifics on the info or account rather than blanket requests.

guitardogg's picture

I get it, the FBI/NSA want to make their job easier, who doesn't? But we have the right to privacy, and it is too important to give up, so if they have to work a little harder to catch the bad guys, so be it. If there was some miraculous way to insure this backdoor was never abused or never used by the wrong people (like the bad guys there are trying to catch in the first place), there still would be privacy issues. We all know that if there is a way to "get in", the bad guys WILL find it (or buy it or extort it). So I say hell NO on this idea!!!

Chief's picture

for freedom deserve neither. Our Founding Fathers understood this. Why was encryption started anyway? Forcing anyone to turn over their encryption 'voluntarily' defeats the entire purpose.
Remember, the scariest words you never wish to hear are: "I'm from the government and I'm here to help".

Freedom is not free.

stooobeee's picture

People know my address and phone number, but I still lock my door; they have access to my backyard, but I still protect it with a privacy fence; they can shine lights in my windows, but I have blinds. We the citizens pay our government to provide a reasonable amount of security in exchange for a reasonable measure of privacy. When this is tampered with, one begins to dominate the other until the one overwhelms it and becomes too great to be challenged. Balance is key!

Kris's picture

Even if there is no illegal use of "back doors" legislation like the "Patriot Act" allows the government to obtain a secret search warrant by merely telling an obliging magistrate that you are suspected of having terrorist connections.

Long live J. Edgar and Big Brother!