Cybersecurity

White House reacts to pro-encryption petition

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White House Officials will meet with privacy advocates this week after an online petition urging President Barack Obama to publicly affirm his support for strong encryption reached the threshold for a response.

The initial petition, which was started in September by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, also asked the government to abstain from pressuring companies to "keep and allow government access to our data, mandate implementation of vulnerabilities or backdoors into products, or have disproportionate access to the keys to private data."

The petition garnered more than104,000 signatures.

U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer Ed Felten and White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Michael Daniel wrote in response that the conversation surrounding encryption is critical for "national security, public health and safety, economic competitiveness, privacy, cybersecurity, and human rights around the world."

However, their response also said that these talks are a part of a "broader conversation" about fighting terrorism as it evolves online.

Encryption has become a hot button issue in Washington following the recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. During his Dec. 6 address to the nation, President Obama said he will urge tech and law enforcement leaders to make it "harder for terrorists to use technology to escape from justice."

Law enforcement agencies have pressured tech companies to give the federal government access to encrypted communications despite the fact that there is no solid proof the attackers used or benefitted from encryption.

In a Dec. 9 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, however, FBI director James Comey suggested that companies that provide users with end-to-end encryption might need to stop.

"The question we have to ask is: should they change their business model?" asked Comey in reference to companies like Apple and Google who offer default encryption on devices. "There are plenty of companies that provide secure services to their customers and still comply with court orders."

Despite promises to "sit down with the creators" of the petition, EFF Activism Director Rainey Reitman said in a blog post that some of the meetings have already occurred without the EFF being involved.

"While there have been several small meetings at the White House involving the many sponsors to the petition, including one this week, EFF was unable to attend this one and it wasn't clear that this was a response to the petition," she said.

The White House declined to comment on who was in attendance at the meetings.

About the Author

Aleida Fernandez is an FCW editorial fellow.

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