Governments want encryption backdoors: new report examines the legal and policy implications

Washington D.C. (February 14, 2018) — Today, Access Now released a new report that concludes that any policy mandating backdoors into encrypted products “would likely be effective for only a minimal time, would be substantially costly, and might harm security in general.” The report is the product of a conversation between former government officials (both law enforcement and policy officials), technologists, academics, and civil society members.

In addition, participants in the discussion concluded that the government has not yet established the scope of what they would want that system to cover or what their specific goals are. The report explores the impact of mandated security vulnerabilities in the areas of law and policy, security, and economics.

The report is available here.

“Forget everything you’ve heard about the encryption debate in the last years. Assume for a moment that Congress does pass a law that would give law enforcement exceptional access to encrypted devices. What would that look like? That is what we were looking to answer through the colloquium, and this report,” said Amie Stepanovich, U.S. Policy Manager at Access Now. “We hope this document contributes to the general understanding of the current status of the debate on encryption policy, including the lack of available data needed to support the government’s current position.”

The report, called “Encryption in the U.S.: Crypto Colloquium Outcomes Report,” documents a colloquium held under Chatham House rules in September 2017. The Colloquium was sponsored by Access Now with support from Mozilla Foundation’s Tech Policy Fellowship. Financial support was provided by the Internet Association.

“As countries around the world consider plans to limit encryption, this paper underscores the need for clear-eyed dialog to best protect personal privacy and security as well as public safety in our digital world. It also demonstrates the power of using specific examples to show the true costs and limited benefits of curtailing encryption use. These findings will be of great value to policymakers everywhere trying to understand the encryption debate,” said Alan Davidson, Mozilla Tech Policy Fellow.

“This report highlights the significant legal and policy challenges that would still remain even if it was possible to provide law enforcement with guaranteed access to encrypted devices,” said Sharon Bradford Franklin, facilitator of the convening and recently named director of surveillance and cybersecurity policy at New America’s Open Technology Institute. “As policymakers consider any proposals to address law enforcement’s plea for exceptional access, they should take heed of the many important ‘lessons learned’ of this report.”