Crypto Wars: EFF Urges Us To Stand Up and Defend Privacy

Privacy watchdogs are growling as the Feds plan government-mandated back doors in encryption software and all communications systems.

The "war on privacy" reached a new level as the EFF proclaimed it's time for all of us who care about privacy to stand up and defend it. The disturbing news today is that the government intends to expand its ability to surveill us by putting government-mandated back doors in all communications systems and in all encryption software.

Promoting security while protecting privacy seem to constantly be at odds. I'd rather not touch politics, but it seems irrevocably intertwined with privacy and security. President Obama ran on a platform that if elected he would "strengthen privacy protections for the digital age." He also promised he would "harness the power of technology to hold government and business accountable for violations of personal privacy." If that were true, that would be wonderful. If that were true, then why are privacy watchdogs growling from all corners of the Net today?

Charlie Savage of The New York Times described how U.S. feds claim "that their ability to wiretap criminal and terrorism suspects is 'going dark' as people increasingly communicate online instead of by telephone." In fact, federal law enforcement and national security officials want Congress "to require all services that enable communications — including encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like Facebook and software that allows direct 'peer to peer' messaging like Skype — to be technically capable of complying if served with a wiretap order. The mandate would include being able to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages."

Apparently the U.S. Government intends to take the same position as the United Arab Emirates (UAE);  if the government gets its way, there will be no communication permitted without allowing U.S. surveillance. According to the Denver Post, "BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd. says it has no way of providing government officials with the text of encrypted corporate e-mails its devices serve up. But if the companies that employ BlackBerry phones want to hand over the encryption keys to their e-mail, it won't object." RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie added, "Strong encryption for corporate data is the norm in all business."

Jim Dempsey - VP for Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) Public Policy stated, "They basically want to turn back the clock and make Internet services function the way that the telephone system used to function."

Salon reported that the Obama administration is waging war on privacy. According to an article update, mandated back doors into email communications are unnecessary. "Via email, surveillance expert Julian Sanchez explains that the Government does not need 'backdoor' access in order to surveill even individuals using encrypted communications, since they can simply use end-user surveillance to do so ('if the FBI has an individual target and fear he'll use encryption, they can do a covert entry under a traditional search warrant and install a keylogger on his computer')."

Valerie E. Caproni, general counsel for the FBI, told The New York Times, “We're talking about lawfully authorized intercepts. We're not talking expanding authority. We're talking about preserving our ability to execute our existing authority in order to protect the public safety and national security.”

EFF's Seth Schoen summed it up for us. "The crypto wars are back in full force, and it's time for everyone who cares about privacy to stand up and defend it: no back doors and no bans on the tools that protect our communications."

After mentioning the proposed expansion of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) and the FBI's reassurance that this applies to “lawful wiretap orders,”  PogoWasRight reported:

Only those who have been soundly asleep can have failed to notice that there is already great concern about governmental abuse of power and orders.

If the government is sincere, then it might want to start by taking action against the FBI for recent revelations of abuse reported by the OIG. Civil liberties were violated. Whose head has rolled or will roll because of it?

And the government might want to start by ensuring that the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is in place and functioning. President Obama has not filled even ONE seat on that board.

My advice to the government: don’t come asking for more cooperation or support until you play catchup with privacy and civil liberties protections. Not only do foreign governments have reason to be concerned about their citizens’ data getting swooped up in governmental fishing expeditions, but so do our own honest citizens.

CDT is no fan of the FBI proposal either. CDT's Jim Dempsey added, "We think it could be bad for privacy, bad for innovation and bad for security. The government already has access to huge amounts of information. Digital technology is already intrusive enough - the government should not be trying to push for even more intrusiveness. In terms of innovation, this would roll back the clock on Internet technology. And whatever backdoors are built for government access would be vulnerabilities to be exploited by hackers, identity thieves and other criminals."

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