Wednesday 29 July 2015

Pro-Encryption Arguments from Access Now’s Crypto Summit 2015

Global digital freedom advocate Access Now held its first Crypto Summit on July 15 in Washington, DC. The event examined the intersection of encryption and government as a matter of United States policy and for its domestic and international implications.
Access Now, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Citizen Lab, Crypto Summit, pro-encryption, law, government backdoors
[Image: EFF Photos]

A session titled “What is the Law and What Should it Be?” brought together panelists Nate Cardozo, Electronic Frontier Foundation; Carrie Cordero, Georgetown University Law Center; Jamil Jaffer, George Mason University Law School; and Sarah McKune, Citizen Lab, who debated the necessity, legality and (im)possibility of government backdoors for encrypted communications.

Some of our favorite pro-encryption arguments from the discussion include:
Encryption is becoming more and more popularized, more ubiquitous, more accessible. But the fact that it’s more accessible is also the reason why those of us in civil society are becoming more secure. Because there are certain barriers to entry for civil society groups and activists to actually enhance their digital security. So the more encryption is implemented by design, the more it’s built in, the less impediments there are to civil society actually using this for their work” (McKune, 16:10-16:37).
“I keep all of my contraband in a safe. When law enforcement wants to search my safe, which they do, they get a warrant—a search warrant. And what do they do? They try and crack the safe, they get a blow torch, they get the best safe cracker. What they don’t do is go to Brinks and say, with the next safe you sell, you have to give us the combo” (Cardozo, 25:26-25:53).
“I’ve heard the concern and the criticism that people in the privacy community and the security community who are concerned about [encryption] are not willing to admit that this can and will be a barrier to law enforcement, that in fact some people will be hurt, some people may even die because of the deployment of encryption. I’m not afraid to say that. What I haven’t heard from the other side is the fact that people can and will and do die because of the failure to deploy encryption, whether it is the battered spouse who is killed after her husband gets into her phone, whether it’s the person who’s shot for their phone, which would be a worthless brick if encryption were turned on, whether it’s the human rights activist in Burma—I can think of many, many other examples where thanks to encryption, people survive. So, are you willing to admit, Ms. Cordero and Mr. Jaffer, that encryption saves lives as well?” (audience member Kevin Bankston, Open Technology Institute, 35:38-36:43).
Any public debate should account for international human rights law and that includes the right to freedom of expression, it includes the right to benefits of scientific progress, of which encryption and other digital advancements are and the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression has addressed this issue and he is very concerned about efforts such as these to undermine digital security standards that encryption helps support. I think we need to take into account that international human rights law perspective as well, which the United States is itself trying to advance in many different fora. If we weaken that or don’t follow that ourselves, it’s definitely going to put us in a difficult spot when we try to advocate the same to repressive regimes such as China” (McKune, 1:08:59-1:09:47).
“We have not gone dark. We are simply going from what is the best Golden Age of Surveillance to…the Silver Age of Surveillance. Because it is still so much more surveillance and so much more access than the government has ever had to the communications of everybody including criminals than it had prior to the internet or even prior to encryption” (audience member, 1:12:56-1:13:25).
To watch the full debate of “What is the Law and What Should it Be?” and other Crypto Summit panels, go to

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