Strong Encryption Wins Again, Time to End the Debate On Government Backdoors

Written by Lisa A. Hayes

Yesterday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) asked a California District Court to vacate a motion compelling Apple to draft new code that would weaken the security of its iPhone. The government’s motion is a clear affirmation that government mandated backdoors, or weaknesses in technology, are not necessary. Yet again, encryption came out on top in this debate, which is a very good thing for our personal and national security.

CDT filed an amicus brief in support of Apple with the aim of having the original order vacated, and that’s what’s likely to happen now. This would not have been the case if the tech community had not coalesced in support of strong encryption, and drawn a clear line in the sand.  After the government’s public plea to the California court for help in cracking the iPhone of a San Bernardino attacker, followed by an abrupt turnaround, it is likely that other courts and Congress will both look more skeptically on the FBI’s “going dark” claims in the future.

It’s important to remember that we do not yet know how the FBI got into the phone; was it via hardware or software? As a result, it’s difficult to know whether the government will have the ability to access other phones.

It’s important to remember that we do not yet know how the FBI got into the phone; was it via hardware or software? As a result, it’s difficult to know whether the government will have the ability to access other phones. In the other federal case currently on appeal in New York, the iOS version and the phone model are different than the ones at issue in California (one is an iPhone 5C running iOS 9 and the other is an iPhone 6S running iOS 8). The DOJ has appealed the NY order that says the All Writs Act doesn’t allow the government to compel a provider to weaken its encryption, but as of now the thoughtfully written order by the New York court is the only substantive written order on the books, and it favors Apple and encryption.

This case makes it clear that it’s time to end the debate about whether governments should be able to compel companies to give the assistance the FBI asked for here. They should not. We should move on to the more important questions: In a society where more and more communications are encrypted, what techniques should law enforcement use to gain access, and which techniques should be outlawed because they undermine trust and increase vulnerabilities?

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