This week, Senators will vote on the nomination of Jeff Sessions to lead the Department of Justice as Attorney General. But Senator Sessions’s response to a written question about encryption should give his colleagues great pause:
Senator Leahy: Do you agree with NSA Director Rogers, Secretary Defense Carter, and other national security experts that strong encryption helps protect this country from cyberattack and is beneficial to the American people’s digital security?
Senator Sessions: Encryption serves many valuable and important purposes. It is also critical, however, that national security and criminal investigators be able to overcome encryption, under lawful authority, when necessary to the furtherance of national-security and criminal investigations.
The response reveals Sessions’s support for building encryption backdoors, which would significantly weaken the security of our communications networks, making us more vulnerable to cyberattacks and data breaches. Like a broken lock, a backdoor intended for legitimate law enforcement needs can also be used to facilitate warrantless intelligence surveillance and can be exploited by malicious actors.
Sessions’s support for encryption backdoors is at odds with U.S. national security interests. In its 2016 report, the House of Representatives’ bipartisan Encryption Working Group found that “any measure that weakens encryption works against the national interest.” The report noted that “it is exceedingly difficult and impractical, if not impossible, to devise and implement a system that gives law enforcement exceptional access to encrypted data without also compromising security against hackers, industrial spies, and other malicious actors.”
The U.S. Attorney General cannot be willing to sacrifice critical protections against cyberattacks in the name of giving law enforcement enhanced access to information.