Apple, Other Techs, Security Experts, Civil Groups Ask White House Not to Give Police Our Data

Apple, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, Facebook, Twitter, the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF), and a host of security experts have penned an open letter to U.S. President Barack Obama urging him not to give law enforcement back door access to our data. The letter is a response by complaints from the U.S. Department of Justice, the FBI, and others criticizing Apple, Google, and others for incorporating encryption that even they can't bypass.

U.S. law enforcement and the country's national security apparatus believe they should have backdoor access to our mobile devices so they can use it to find and stop criminals and terrorists. This, despite the long-proven reality that backdoor access available to one is available to all, including those same criminals and terrorists. This battle has been fought time and again in our courts and legislative process, but here we are again.

"Strong encryption is the cornerstone of the modern information economy’s security," the parties wrote in the letter. "Encryption protects billions of people every day against countless threats—be they street criminals trying to steal our phones and laptops, computer criminals trying to defraud us, corporate spies trying to obtain our companies’ most valuable trade secrets, repressive governments trying to stifle dissent, or foreign intelligence agencies trying to compromise our and our allies’ most sensitive national security secrets."

The White House has not yet commented on the letter.

The letter in full, as published by The Washington Post.

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Obama,
May 19, 2015

We the undersigned represent a wide variety of civil society organizations dedicated to protecting civil liberties, human rights, and innovation online, as well as technology companies, trade associations, and security and policy experts. We are writing today to respond to recent statements by some Administration officials regarding the deployment of strong encryption technology in the devices and services offered by the U.S. technology industry. Those officials have suggested that American companies should refrain from providing any products that are secured by encryption, unless those companies also weaken their security in order to maintain the capability to decrypt their customers’ data at the government’s request. Some officials have gone so far as to suggest that Congress should act to ban such products or mandate such capabilities.

We urge you to reject any proposal that U.S. companies deliberately weaken the security of their products. We request that the White House instead focus on developing policies that will promote rather than undermine the wide adoption of strong encryption technology. Such policies will in turn help to promote and protect cybersecurity, economic growth, and human rights, both here and abroad.

Strong encryption is the cornerstone of the modern information economy’s security. Encryption protects billions of people every day against countless threats—be they street criminals trying to steal our phones and laptops, computer criminals trying to defraud us, corporate spies trying to obtain our companies’ most valuable trade secrets, repressive governments trying to stifle dissent, or foreign intelligence agencies trying to compromise our and our allies’ most sensitive national security secrets.

Encryption thereby protects us from innumerable criminal and national security threats. This protection would be undermined by the mandatory insertion of any new vulnerabilities into encrypted devices and services. Whether you call them “front doors” or “back doors”, introducing intentional vulnerabilities into secure products for the government’s use will make those products less secure against other attackers. Every computer security expert that has spoken publicly on this issue agrees on this point, including the government’s own experts.

In addition to undermining cybersecurity, any kind of vulnerability mandate would also seriously undermine our economic security. U.S. companies are already struggling to maintain international trust in the wake of revelations about the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs. Introducing mandatory vulnerabilities into American products would further push many customers—be they domestic or international, individual or institutional—to turn away from those compromised products and services. Instead, they—and many of the bad actors whose behavior the government is hoping to impact—will simply rely on encrypted offerings from foreign providers, or avail themselves of the wide range of free and open source encryption products that are easily available online.

More than undermining every American’s cybersecurity and the nation’s economic security, introducing new vulnerabilities to weaken encrypted products in the U.S. would also undermine human rights and information security around the globe. If American companies maintain the ability to unlock their customers’ data and devices on request, governments other than the United States will demand the same access, and will also be emboldened to demand the same capability from their native companies. The U.S. government, having made the same demands, will have little room to object. The result will be an information environment riddled with vulnerabilities that could be exploited by even the most repressive or dangerous regimes. That’s not a future that the American people or the people of the world deserve.

The Administration faces a critical choice: will it adopt policies that foster a global digital ecosystem that is more secure, or less? That choice may well define the future of the Internet in the 21st century. When faced with a similar choice at the end of the last century, during the so-called “Crypto Wars”, U.S. policymakers weighed many of the same concerns and arguments that have been raised in the current debate, and correctly concluded that the serious costs of undermining encryption technology outweighed the purported benefits. So too did the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, who unanimously recommended in their December 2013 report that the US Government should “(1) fully support and not undermine efforts to create encryption standards; (2) not in any way subvert, undermine, weaken, or make vulnerable generally available commercial software; and (3) increase the use of encryption and urge US companies to do so, in order to better protect data in transit, at rest, in the cloud, and in other storage.”

We urge the Administration to follow the Review Group’s recommendation and adopt policies that promote rather than undermine the widespread adoption of strong encryption technologies, and by doing so help lead the way to a more secure, prosperous, and rights- respecting future for America and for the world.

Thank you,

Civil Society Organizations

Advocacy for Principled Action in Government American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) American Civil Liberties Union
American Library Association
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
Center for Democracy & Technology Committee to Protect Journalists
The Constitution Project Constitutional Alliance
Council on American-Islamic Relations Demand Progress
Defending Dissent Foundation, Inc.
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)
Fight for the Future
Free Press
Free Software Foundation
Freedom of the Press Foundation
GNOME Foundation
Human Rights Watch
The Media Consortium
New America's Open Technology Institute
Niskanen Center
Open Source Initiative
PEN American Center
Project Censored/Media Freedom Foundation
R Street
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
The Tor Project
U.S. Public Policy Council of Association for Computing Machinery World Privacy Forum

Companies & Trade Associations

ACT | The App Association
Apple Inc.
The Application Developers Alliance Automattic
Cisco Systems
Cloud Linux Inc.
Computer & Communications Industry Association Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)
Context Relevant The Copia Institute
CREDO Mobile
Data Foundry
Golden Frog
HackerOne Hackers/Founders Hewlett-Packard Company Internet Archive
Internet Association
Internet Infrastructure Coalition (i2Coalition) Level 3 Communications
Open Spectrum Inc.
Reform Government Surveillance
Silent Circle
Slack Technologies, Inc.
Tech Assets Inc.
Wikimedia Foundation

Security and Policy Experts*

Hal Abelson, Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Ben Adida, VP Engineering, Clever Inc.
Jacob Appelbaum, The Tor Project
Adam Back, PhD, Inventor, HashCash, Co-Founder & President, Blockstream Alvaro Bedoya, Executive Director, Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law
Brian Behlendorf, Open Source software pioneer
Steven M. Bellovin, Percy K. and Vida L.W. Hudson Professor of Computer Science, Columbia University
Matt Bishop, Professor of Computer Science, University of California at Davis Matthew Blaze, Director, Distributed Systems Laboratory, University of Pennsylvania Dan Boneh, Professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at Stanford University
Eric Burger, Research Professor of Computer Science and Director, Security and Software Engineering Research Center (Georgetown), Georgetown University Jon Callas, CTO, Silent Circle
L. Jean Camp, Professor of Informatics, Indiana University
Richard A. Clarke, Chairman, Good Harbor Security Risk Management
Gabriella Coleman, Wolfe Chair in Scientific and Technological Literacy, McGill University
Whitfield Diffie, Dr. sc. techn., Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University
David Evans, Professor of Computer Science, University of Virginia
David J. Farber, Alfred Filter Moore Professor Emeritus of Telecommunications, University of Pennsylvania
Dan Farmer, Security Consultant and Researcher, Vicious Fishes Consulting
Rik Farrow, Internet Security
Joan Feigenbaum, Department Chair and Grace Murray Hopper Professor of Computer Science Yale University
Richard Forno, Jr. Affiliate Scholar, Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society Alex Fowler, Co-Founder & SVP, Blockstream
Jim Fruchterman, Founder and CEO, Benetech
Daniel Kahn Gillmor, ACLU Staff Technologist
Robert Graham, creator of BlackICE, sidejacking, and masscan
Jennifer Stisa Granick, Director of Civil Liberties, Stanford Center for Internet and Society
Matthew D. Green, Assistant Research Professor, Johns Hopkins University Information Security Institute
Robert Hansen, Vice President of Labs at WhiteHat Security
Lance Hoffman, Director, George Washington University, Cyber Security Policy and Research Institute
Marcia Hofmann, Law Office of Marcia Hofmann
Nadim Kobeissi, PhD Researcher, INRIA
Joseph Lorenzo Hall, Chief Technologist, Center for Democracy & Technology
Nadia Heninger, Assistant Professor, Department of Computer and Information Science, University of Pennsylvania
David S. Isenberg, Producer, Freedom 2 Connect
Douglas W. Jones, Department of Computer Science, University of Iowa
Susan Landau, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Gordon Fyodor Lyon, Founder, Nmap Security Scanner Project
Aaron Massey, Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Interactive Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology
Jonathan Mayer, Graduate Fellow, Stanford University
Jeff Moss, Founder, DEF CON and Black Hat security conferences