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Everyone in Tech Hates the Idea of Ruining Encryption

After months of relative silence, tech giants have joined security experts and said no to backdoors.
May 19, 2015, 2:38pm
Image: wk1003mike/Shutterstock

For months, government officials have railed against encryption technology that protects user data from being stolen by hackers but also makes it difficult for cops to access or intercept. On Tuesday, the tech industry is saying "enough."

A letter signed by pretty much everyone in Silicon Valley, including Google, Apple, Yahoo, Twitter, and Facebook, as well as dozens of security and privacy experts and many civil liberties organizations, urges President Barack Obama to say no to any proposal that would force companies to weaken the security of their products so that law enforcement authorities can access customer data.

The plea comes after months of public debate over encryption, which was sparked when Apple announced that data on the new iPhone would be encrypted by default and that even the company wouldn't be able to access to it. After that announcement, FBI Director James Comey has been urging companies to backtrack and give law enforcement a way in, because otherwise widespread encryption will "lead us all to a very dark place" where authorities can't get key evidence when they need it.

Despite these complaints, the FBI and other government agencies have failed to put forward a concrete proposal that would give consumers strong encryption while also providing cops and feds a way in. Experts have accused the officials of asking for backdoors, which are intentional vulnerabilities designed to give access to otherwise secure systems, while officials have defended their requests saying they simply want legal "frontdoors."

"Whether you call them 'frontdoors' or 'backdoors,' introducing intentional vulnerabilities into secure products for the government's use will make those products less secure."

"Whether you call them 'frontdoors' or 'backdoors,' introducing intentional vulnerabilities into secure products for the government's use will make those products less secure against other attackers," the letter reads.

The letter goes on to argue that not only backdoors aren't technically feasible, but they're a bad idea because if the US gets them, then other government will feel legitimized to demand them too, which will "undermine human rights and information security around the globe."

"The result will be an information environment riddled with vulnerabilities that could be exploited by even the most repressive or dangerous regimes," the letter reads. "That's not a future that the American people or the people of the world deserve."

"We decided it was time for the Internet community—industry, advocates, and experts—to draw a line in the sand."

Another issue, the letter continues, is that it will hurt American companies operating abroad, as consumers and businesses will turn to other companies offering products that have stronger protections.

A White House spokesperson declined to comment.

The letter was sent by New America's Open Technology Institute and was signed by leading civil liberties organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and independent security and cryptography experts such as Bruce Schneier, Matthew Green, Matt Blaze and Steven Bellovin. Other companies that put their name on the letter include Microsoft, Adobe, Cisco, and Dropbox.

"We decided it was time for the Internet community—industry, advocates, and experts—to draw a line in the sand," New America said in a

press release

.

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