Privacy Vs. National Security: Debate Over Encryption Ban Takes a New Turn in the US

Active discussions over Encryption ban take a new turn as the US Intelligence Committee Leaders release Discussion draft of Encryption bill. Bitcoin community members ring alarm bells.

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Privacy Vs. National Security: Debate Over Encryption Ban Takes a New Turn in the US

Active discussions over Encryption ban take a new turn as the US Intelligence Committee Leaders released Discussion draft of Encryption bill. Bitcoin community members ring alarm bells.

Decryption of data to fight terrorism

Encryption is not a new nor a radical discussion topic. It has been hitting the headlines even more for the last couple of months.

Government officials around the world are proposing bills to have encryption weakened with the only intention to protect citizens from criminals and terrorists.

A little while ago, the US state lawmakers proposed a new bill to weaken smartphone encryption by default, to avoid its use cases for terrorism. Then, California Assemblymember Jim Cooper proposed a very similar bill with a slightly different reason behind it. Rather than justifying it with the need to fight terrorism, he proposed to bring an end to human trafficking on a global scale.

No matter what reasons government officials are using to justify their suggestions, the bills are always looking to achieve the same goal: weaken data encryption on a large scale to decrypt and unlock stored information by the manufacturer or operating system provider.

A New Encryption Draft Bill

While many keep questioning how accessing users’ encrypted data can help governments fight terrorism, let's turn to this month’s backlash caused by the release of Encryption Draft Bill by the US Intelligence Committee.

The bill states that everyone must comply with the law to protect America from criminals and terrorists. A great intention, but at what cost? The bill establishes that Providers of communication services and products should protect US people’s privacy introducing strong data protection measures while still complying with court orders and other legal requirements. Simply put, all device manufacturers, software manufacturers, electronic communications services, remote communication services, or any provider of a product or a method to facilitate communication or to process or store data must provide information or data to the government if received a court order. The Draft bill states that no one is above the law and everyone must comply with court orders to ensure protection from criminals and terrorists. Doesn’t sound like anything new, but the draft bill still raises some concerns.

Simply put, there is a limit to our privacy and all data can be handed to authorities by their request.

The bill establishes that providers of services or products that facilitate communication or storing and processing data should protect US persons’ privacy with strong data security while still complying with court orders and other legal requirements. Is it even possible to achieve both?

Divided opinions

Government authorities behind the draft bill justify it with the fact that this is one of the ways to protect the lives and wellbeing of the US citizens.

Committee on Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr says:

“I have long believed that data is too insecure, and feel strongly that consumers have a right to seek solutions that protect their information – which involves strong encryption. I do not believe, however, that those solutions should be above the law.”

Burr hopes that this draft will start a meaningful and inclusive debate on the role of encryption and its place within the rule of law.  

Both users and manufacturers have always been strongly pro-encryption, with the latter expressing their intentions to even build additional layers to protect the data. In their view, proposed legislation to weaken encryption will only cause immense harm.

Kevin Bankston, Director of the Open Technology Institute at New America, a Washington think tank says:

"It is hard to overstate how disastrous for the security of all of our data as well as the economic security of our tech sector this would be."

From his perspective, lawmakers working on this kind of legislation just do not understand the implications of forcing companies to provide digital back doors to technology that is supposed to be secure.

Bankston continues:

"It's not possible to build some special access capability for the government into our most secure data without also making it vulnerable to other bad actors. And yet this bill says, 'We don't care. Do magic, find a way to secure all of our data while also making it available on demand to the government at any time.' And that's simply not possible."

Kevin Bankston, Director of the Open Technology Institute at New America

Other security experts are unanimously criticizing the Encryption bill draft.

Security researcher Jonathan Zdziarski says the entire bill is dangerous - it will weaken the security of America's technology infrastructure. This will affect everything from the iPhone you hold in your pocket to how data is transmitted over the Internet, allowing the government to effectively break all electronic commerce and Internet security.

Zdziarski notes:

“This is bad legislation in every way, and it very subtly allows for unconstitutional government control of private industry.”

What about digital currency sector?

The attempt of government officials who are not approving of any social network and internet service that is 100% secret to make them abandon their claimed privacy policies will certainly have an impact on the cryptocurrency sector.

Would this kind of legislation make it impossible for bitcoin businesses to function further if such secrecy were banned? Or would that give a new direction for them to develop further?

Reddit Community members are resenting:

“How do they plan on stopping terrorists from using PGP and other open source encryption tools? If passed, this law will limit our privacy and be as successful as the war on drugs.”

“In fact, the only people I've met who actually SUPPORT this bullshit are conservatives who are too old to understand how the internet works.”

“You can't have both. The real security you can offer customers and clients is the same security that the government wants you to weaken or even disable strictly for them. They want it both ways.”

Threats to our privacy

The threats to our data are numerous, it might be targeted by rogue hackers for many reasons ranging from nefarious to advantageous or just absurd. When it comes to money, we all certainly want our savings to be stored and transferred safely and securely.

Any regulatory burden, especially of this kind, would certainly influence businesses that are running digital currency services. Governments taking further steps on limiting encryption would shift their businesses overseas with more encryption-friendly policies.

Encryption is an extremely useful tool to provide us with more peace regarding our precious data.

Obviously, if either of the proposed bills on encryption would come to pass, it will only mean one thing: inserting backdoors into encrypted systems would render them open and it would be impossible for both providers and users to be certain that all that is happening on the web is not being monitored.

Our data would no longer be safe from prying eyes, and government officials would have even more access to our data. Maybe not even government officials?

Debate continues

Will this draft bill become the first step in a much larger attack on encryption and on personal freedoms as well? We are yet to see, however, as many experts predict, the adoption of such kind of law is unlikely in the nearest future.

Technology has advanced so far in the last decade, there is a little chance the government will be able to legislate against encryption, as blocking the software that creates encrypted messages and files and their transmission over the web  is simply absurd.

The topic of collection and retention of personal data will remain popular with policymakers and tech community members, bringing them closer for a discussion.

Who knows, perhaps after joining forces they would be able to come up with better ideas that could benefit both saving the world from terrorism and ensuring data protection?


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