President Barak Obama has officially come out in support of UK Prime Minister David Cameron's push for backdoor government access to private encrypted data, and even went so far as to suggest U.S. companies that offer ways to decrypt user data are patriots. The President's comments follow Mr. Cameron's push for government access to encrypted emails, and text messages, and it signals a serious threat to our personal privacy.
President Obama sides with UK, wants backdoor to our encrypted data
Mr. Obama offered up the threat of terrorism as justification for the need to make encryption a privacy and security feature in name only. According to the Wall Street Journal he said,
If we find evidence of a terrorist plot… and despite having a phone number, despite having a social media address or email address, we can't penetrate that, that's a problem.
Forcing companies to build a way into their encrypted services to allow government access would give law enforcement agencies access to our private communications. As TMO's Bryan Chaffin pointed out, it would also give criminals the same access. In other words, once a backdoor is in place, anyone can use it and none of our data is truly secure.
The concern both leaders have stems from strong encryption measures Apple, Google, Facebook and other companies have put in place that prevents them from decrypting their own customer's data. In Apple's case, communication between Messages users is encrypted in a way that allows for only the chat participants to see a conversation's content.
The President's position no doubt comes as welcome news to FBI Director James Comey who has been pushing for easy government access to our private encrypted data. The DOJ is on board with backdoor access, too.
Ironically, Mr. Obama also said we need to work to improve cybersecurity—a statement that sits at odds with his push for a deeper level of access to encrypted data.
In the U.K., encrypted services that don't offer backdoors into data would be outlawed. The President hasn't said the U.S. would do the same, but it seems like a possible outcome should the government manage to put anti-encryption legislation in place.
Apple, Google and other companies touting their privacy features have a lot to lose in this fight because they don't want to see customer trust eroded. That could lead to lost sales, and some governments might be reticent to buy their products knowing the United States and United Kingdom could potentially unlock their encrypted data.
With terms like "terrorist" and "patriot" being tossed around, it's clear both governments are serious about getting access to our encrypted data and they won't give up without a fight. Citizens hoping to keep their personal information private from the government and hackers need to be ready to fight, too, by letting their leaders know they don't support the move.
Another bit of wise advice from our own Bryan Chaffin: Pay attention. Vote.
The government says this is a war on terrorism, but it's really a war on privacy and security. If we don't stand up with companies offering us encryption without backdoors, we'll lose yet another level of privacy—and once that's lost we won't be able to get it back again.