Donald Trump’s choice for Attorney General may indicate an administration hostile to encryption and online privacy.
Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, the incoming administration’s Attorney General pick, has long adopted a critical stance against encryption. He has stood in direct opposition to end-to-end encryption, citing his experience in law enforcement when calling for government officials to have complete access to encrypted devices.
Earlier this year, Apple remained in a standoff with the FBI over allowing law enforcement agencies access to a locked device owned by a mass shooter in California, a move highly criticized by Sessions. Trump himself also opposed Apple’s stand while on the campaign trail, insisting that the company be boycotted.
The selection of Sessions for Attorney General of the United States indicates that a Trump administration would be hostile to encryption, and would side with law enforcement agencies over tech companies when making legal and prosecutorial decisions. This gives privacy advocates cause for worry for the next four years.
Downloads for Signal, Snowden-endorsed encrypted messenger, up post-election
An upcoming Trump administration’s promised hostility towards encryption has not gone unnoticed by the nation at large. Following the results of the U.S. presidential election, Signal, the encrypted messaging app by Open Whisper Systems personally recommended by Edward Snowden, saw a significant increase in popularity.
The day before the election, Signal was ranked 98th and 65th in the App Store and Play Store respectively, and over the next two days it rose to 34th and 33rd. This increase in downloads indicates a general sense of fear that the new administration will maintain, and increase, current governmental surveillance powers.
In the face of this election upset, the tech community has come forward with an open letter to Trump encouraging him to minimize some of his potentially more damaging inclinations. The letter calls on the new administration to preserve the right to use encryption, as well as roll back government spying programs.
The encryption community braces for a fight in 2017
As a new presidential administration begins, it presents a new series of challenges for privacy and encryption. While not entirely pro-privacy by a long shot, Hillary Clinton did present some friendly overtures in that area. Her campaign team reportedly used Signal for all its communications, and she sought approval from both Google and Apple in crafting a policy in favor of maintaining end-to-end encryption, instead of having law enforcement agencies relying on hacking encrypted services through the exploitation of weaknesses. An impending Trump presidency would remove this base level of certainty on government policy within this area.
Meanwhile, privacy advocates remain dedicated to fighting for the right to encryption, developing new tools to secure the integrity of digital information. Apple’s CEO Tim Cook, made a strong public stance in favor of encryption, stating that it protects public safety. That stance will inevitably lead to friction with world governments, as Europe is already gearing up to push for a ban on end-to-end encryption.