Tech Industry Asks President To Please Not Weaken Encryption

While U.S. lawmakers recently passed legislation that would end certain types of invasive snooping by federal agencies, the Justice Dept. continues to push electronics manufacturers for backdoors that would allow law enforcement to access encrypted devices. A pair of trade groups representing a wide variety of electronics and online businesses have written President Obama asking him to consider the “global implications” of these efforts.

“We are opposed to any policy actions or measures that would undermine encryption as an available and effective tool,” reads the letter [PDF] sent yesterday to the President by the Information Technology Industry Council and the Software & Information Industry Association. “Encryption is an essential asset of the global digital infrastructure, enabling security and confidentiality for transactions as well as assurances to individuals that their communications are private and information is protected.”

As both software developers and manufacturers have begun to make their products more secure, the DOJ, most notably FBI Director James Comey, has pushed for the development of some sort of loophole or backdoor that would allow law enforcement, in certain warranted circumstances, to work around locks and encryption.

For example, after Apple changed its iOS operating system so that the company could no longer force-unlock a customer’s device, Comey called for legislation that would compel law-enforcement access for devices and communications apps.

“[W]e urge you not to pursue any policy or proposal that would require or encourage companies to weaken these technologies, including the weakening of encryption or creating encryption ‘work-arounds,'” continues the letter from the tech trade groups, who acknowledge that law enforcement may have a legitimate need for certain information in investigating crimes and threats, but say that backdoors are not the answer.

“Doing so would compromise the security of [communications] products and services, rendering them more vulnerable to attacks and would erode consumers’ trust in the products and services they rely on for protecting their information,” explains the letter.

The groups also express concern about a possible domino effect of a U.S. decision to compromise encryption, saying it would “send a signal to the rest of the world. Should the U.S. government require companies to weaken encryption technology, such requirements will legitimize similar efforts by foreign governments. This would threaten the global marketplace as well as deprive individuals of certain liberties.”

The White House position has been that manufacturers and developers trying to cater to consumers who crave more privacy may also be unwittingly abetting crime and terror.

However, cybersecurity experts have warned that any weakness or work-around for encryption is basically like putting out a welcome mat for hackers.