New Report Proposes Framework for Policymakers to Address Debate Over Encryption

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by Angela Guess

According to a recent press release, “A new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine proposes a framework for evaluating proposals to provide authorized government agencies with access to unencrypted versions of encrypted communications and other data.  The framework is the product of an 18-month study led by a diverse array of leaders from law enforcement, computer science, civil liberties, law, and other disciplines. The decades-old encryption debate reached new public prominence in connection with the FBI’s efforts to compel Apple to decrypt the phone of a dead terrorist in the San Bernardino case. FBI and other law enforcement officials have warned that the growing use of encryption in smart phones, messaging apps, and other devices and software is restricting their access to information needed for criminal and national security investigations. They have increasingly called for reliable, timely, and scalable ways to access this information so they can fulfill their public safety and national security missions.”

The release goes on, “Meanwhile, critics have raised legal and practical objections that regulations to ensure government access would pose unacceptable risks to privacy and civil liberties and undermine information security in the face of rising cyber threats, and may be less necessary given the wider availability of data and alternative means of obtaining access to encrypted data. One of the fundamental trade-offs underlying the debate, according to the report, is that adding capabilities  for government to access encryption schemes would weaken the security of an encrypted product or service to some degree, while the absence of such an access hampers government investigations.”


Photo credit: National Academies of Sciences

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