Obama Will Finally Have to Say Whether or Not He Supports Encryption Backdoors

A popular petition has passed 100,000 signatures, meaning the White House must respond.

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Oct 27 2015, 5:16pm

Image: Flickr/Nick Knupffer

A popular online petition demanding that the White House support widespread encryption and oppose any laws that would make "backdoors" for law enforcement mandatory, has passed 100,000 signatures—a benchmark that will require US President Barack Obama to formally respond.

In recent months, the FBI has continually pushed for "back doors" that would allow law enforcement to peek inside encrypted devices for investigative purposes. However, privacy advocates—and even Michael Hayden, former head of the NSA—insist that a back door can not only be used by law enforcement, but an attacker as well, and would weaken encryption overall.

Obama has been facing both public and private pressure to stand against any legislation that would enforce mandatory back doors. A draft letter from the US National Security Council, reported on by the Washington Post in September, encouraged the president to "strongly disavow" legislating against widespread encryption. Tech giants such as Apple and Google came out in favour of strong encryption, free of backdoors, in an open letter to the President in May.

But the President's stance thus far been middling, which makes his expected response to the petition all the more hotly anticipated. While Obama told Re/Code's Kara Swisher that he personally supports strong encryption in an interview in February, the administration has asked companies to assist law enforcement in bypassing encryption—but stopped short of supporting any new laws.

Just because the White House now has to take a stand on the encryption issue doesn't mean it'll be the one that privacy advocates want. When the White House responded to a petition asking Obama to pardon NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, it was with, as Motherboard's Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai put it, "a very polite and long-winded way of saying, 'fuck no.'"