Internet Governance

Keep the Back Doors to Encryption Shut

Encryption is a security issue and a privacy issue, and those are two matters that ServInt cares deeply about. We work on behalf of our customers to build trusted environments that are both private and secure. That’s why we keep a close eye on what’s going on in Washington regarding encryption back doors for law enforcement — it just isn’t right. There are many reasons why encryption back doors are a bad idea, and it isn’t just that we don’t believe that tools for mass surveillance should be supported. A back door for law enforcement is a front door for hackers. This kind of government action makes the whole Internet more dangerous. Those who support encryption back doors say they are doing it for public safety, but no system is safer with a hole drilled into it. Now is the time for organizations like ours to step up and make it known that encryption back doors are wrongheaded and can’t be brought into law.

ServInt has signed on to the following letter in support of strong encryption technology and against encryption back doors along with 131 other companies, civil society organizations, trade associations, and security and policy experts including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Google and Apple. Click here to see the full list of individuals and companies who’ve signed on to this letter.

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

May 19, 2015

Dear President Obama,

We the undersigned represent a wide variety of civil society organizations dedicated to protecting civil liberties, human rights, and innovation online, as well as technology companies, trade associations, and security and policy experts. We are writing today to respond to recent statements by some Administration officials regarding the deployment of strong encryption technology in the devices and services offered by the U.S. technology industry. Those officials have suggested that American companies should refrain from providing any products that are secured by encryption, unless those companies also weaken their security in order to maintain the capability to decrypt their customers’ data at the government’s request. Some officials have gone so far as to suggest that Congress should act to ban such products or mandate such capabilities.

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. Such policies will in turn help to promote and protect cybersecurity, economic growth, and human rights, both here and abroad.

Strong encryption is the cornerstone of the modern information economy’s security. Encryption protects billions of people every day against countless threats—be they street criminals trying to steal our phones and laptops, computer criminals trying to defraud us, corporate spies trying to obtain our companies’ most valuable trade secrets, repressive governments trying to stifle dissent, or foreign intelligence agencies trying to compromise our and our allies’ most sensitive national security secrets.

Encryption thereby protects us from innumerable criminal and national security threats. This protection would be undermined by the mandatory insertion of any new vulnerabilities into encrypted devices and services. Whether you call them “front doors” or “back doors”, introducing intentional vulnerabilities into secure products for the government’s use will make those products less secure against other attackers. Every computer security expert that has spoken publicly on this issue agrees on this point, including the government’s own experts.

In addition to undermining cybersecurity, any kind of vulnerability mandate would also seriously undermine our economic security. U.S. companies are already struggling to maintain international trust in the wake of revelations about the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs. Introducing mandatory vulnerabilities into American products would further push many customers—be they domestic or international, individual or institutional—to turn away from those compromised products and services. Instead, they—and many of the bad actors whose behavior the government is hoping to impact—will simply rely on encrypted offerings from foreign providers, or avail themselves of the wide range of free and open source encryption products that are easily available online.

More than undermining every American’s cybersecurity and the nation’s economic security, introducing new vulnerabilities to weaken encrypted products in the U.S. would also undermine human rights and information security around the globe. If American companies maintain the ability to unlock their customers’ data and devices on request, governments other than the United States will demand the same access, and will also be emboldened to demand the same capability from their native companies. The U.S. government, having made the same demands, will have little room to object. The result will be an information environment riddled with vulnerabilities that could be exploited by even the most repressive or dangerous regimes. That’s not a future that the American people or the people of the world deserve.

The Administration faces a critical choice: will it adopt policies that foster a global digital ecosystem that is more secure, or less? That choice may well define the future of the Internet in the 21st century. When faced with a similar choice at the end of the last century, during the so-called “Crypto Wars”, U.S. policymakers weighed many of the same concerns and arguments that have been raised in the current debate, and correctly concluded that the serious costs of undermining encryption technology outweighed the purported benefits. So too did the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, who unanimously recommended in their December 2013 report that the US Government should “(1) fully support and not undermine efforts to create encryption standards; (2) not in any way subvert, undermine, weaken, or make vulnerable generally available commercial software; and (3) increase the use of encryption and urge US companies to do so, in order to better protect data in transit, at rest, in the cloud, and in other storage.”

We urge the Administration to follow the Review Group’s recommendation and adopt policies that promote rather than undermine the widespread adoption of strong encryption technologies, and by doing so help lead the way to a more secure, prosperous, and rights-respecting future for America and for the world.

Thank you,

Photo by Craig Sunter

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