Hiawatha Bray On Phone Encryption And The Fight Against Terrorism

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Law enforcement agencies are calling on tech companies to build "backdoors" into their encryption software. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)
Law enforcement agencies are calling on tech companies to build "backdoors" into their encryption software. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

In the wake of the Paris attacks, the debate over balancing our right to privacy and our need for security has once again flared up. Law enforcement officials are calling on tech companies like Apple and Google to loosen the encryption standards on their phones to make it easier to intercept potential terrorist communications. But is weakening encryption worth it, or even effective?


Hiawatha Bray, technology writer for the business section of The Boston Globe. He’s also author of the book, “You Are Here: From the Compass to GPS, the History and Future of How We Find Ourselves.” He tweets @GlobeTechLab.


The Boston Globe: In the Age Of ISIS, Privacy Still Matters

  • "The only solution, the authorities say, is a system of 'back doors' that would unlock encryption programs to any investigator with a court order. But that’s no solution. Back-dooring our secure devices would weaken global demand for US technology products and make life easier for cyber-criminals. Above all, it wouldn’t work."

The New York Times: F.B.I. Director Repeats Call That Ability to Read Encrypted Messages Is Crucial

  • "In a speech at a cybersecurity conference in New York, James B. Comey, who since taking over the F.B.I. has been the most vociferous about the 'going dark' problem facing investigators, warned that 'we’re drifting to a place' where court orders to gain access to text messages or computer communications 'are ineffective.' Both devices and data in transmission are often encrypted so well that the law enforcement and intelligence agencies cannot crack the coding — and their makers have designed the system so they do not hold the key."

Wired Magazine: Cops Don’t Need A Crypto Backdoor To Get Into Your iPhone

  • "To judge by FBI director James Comey’s warnings to Congress and the public, last week’s decision pushes us one step closer to a world where police surveillance “goes dark,” encryption reigns supreme, and pedophiles and drug dealers enjoy perfect immunity from the cops. But before surveillance hawks prophesy doomsday or privacy doves celebrate, let’s remember: For better or for worse, encryption usually doesn’t keep determined cops out of a target’s private data. In fact, it only rarely comes into play at all. In 2014, for instance, law enforcement encountered encryption in only 25 out of the 3,554 wiretaps it reported to the judiciary—about .7 percent of cases. And of those meager 25 incidents, investigators circumvented the encryption to access the target’s unencrypted communications 21 times."

This segment aired on November 19, 2015.


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