The guy behind the grill at Mickey D’s has it rough on hot summer days, but the President has what is arguably the toughest job in America year round. Just ask Barack Obama, who’s feeling heat from the right wing, foreign counterparts, and even IT leaders.
Acting as the voice of the IT industry, the Information Technology Industry (ITI) Council and Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) have encouraged the Obama coalition to rethink implementing policies that would compromise existing security strategies. The two groups recently sent a letter to the President expressing their disapproval of any measures that would counteract the encryption methods IT vendors currently use to safeguard confidential data. The industry looks poised to fight what some might say is an effort by Big Brother to legally meddle in the public’s private business.
I came across a Reuters article that explains how the FBI has been selected to do the President’s bidding in a potentially long and grueling battle with IT. In addition to challenging tech companies to conform, the agency is reportedly gearing up to attempt to sway Congress to enforce mandates that would allow the government to circumvent encryption. While no specific policies have been suggested, backdoors that grant immediate access and workarounds that might alter the actual development of encryption software have been mentioned.
Is Encryption A Threat to National Security?
As with technology in general, data encryption is a useful tool that suddenly becomes devastating in the wrong hands. A locked phone could stall evidence collection in a criminal investigation. The encrypted folders on a hard drive might be the reason a suspected murderer walks free. Technically speaking, the same cryptographic schemes that protect mission-critical corporate data and ensure consumer privacy can provide cover for cyber threats and IT-driven terrorist operations.
Encryption may play a direct or indirect role in aiding criminal activities and thwarting justice. While government law enforcers have some legitimate concerns, IT proponents believe those concerns are a tad bit exaggerated. The ITI-SIIA alliance, which represents tech giants like Google, Microsoft, and Apple, is convinced that tinkering with this vital security technology is not the way to go. Their open letter specifically reminds the administration that making encrypted data easier to access would in essence make IT companies more vulnerable, and erode the confidence of customers who trust them with their data.
What Happens Next?
Of course the U.S. isn’t the only government with an encryption conundrum on its hands. UK Prime Minister David Cameron spoke publicly about how consumer-friendly encryption software tools like WhatsApp could potentially be troublesome for the same reasons discussed above. While outlawing these tools doesn’t look to be something that’s on the table, legislation that demands IT companies to open locked data on-demand could be.
Say what you will about the government, but I’d like to think they’re more interested in balancing access and control over encryption with effective privacy protection than they are undermining IT security. Though it may not command the attention of America’s ISIS strategy, some are calling this one of the biggest issues currently on the President’s plate. How do you think the Obama Administration will respond?.
Photo by Yuri Yu. Samoilov