US Considers Joining the War on Encryption

History could repeat itself as the US considers joining the war on encryption. It would be the fourth country to do so.

It didn’t seem all that long ago, but Australia last year passed rushed through anti-encryption laws. Ever since, the country has payed a steep price. That price is a massive exodus of innovation and investment.

While the passage of anti-encryption laws wound up being a horrible mistake for the country, it seems other countries want to join the war on encryption. So far, two other countries are considering the economically disastrous idea. Those countries are Germany and the UK.

Now, it seems that the US, through the Trump administration, is considering becoming the fourth country to join the war on encryption. According to Forbes, senior Trump officials are in discussions over how they want to plunge the country into another war on encryption. From the report:

End-to-end encrypted messaging is a major issue for law enforcement—as the world shifts from easy to crack (for governments) cellular SMS messaging to various flavors of IP messaging, such as WhatsApp, iMessage, Signal and Wickr, governments are exploring their options. The challenge is that such services are provided by technology companies, mostly based in the U.S., making them to a large extent out of reach from lawmakers elsewhere. The messaging services run “over the top,” meaning they are not tied directly to the provider of the network or the phone.

All of which means that the powerbroker here, as in most things tech, is the U.S. government. Which is why when Politico reported that “senior Trump administration officials met on Wednesday [June 26] to discuss whether to seek legislation prohibiting tech companies from using forms of encryption that law enforcement can’t break,” it was of real significance, “a provocative step that would reopen a long-running feud between federal authorities and Silicon Valley.”

“Technology is moving fast, and privacy needs to move with it,” Joel Wallenstrom—the CEO of uber-secure messaging platform Wickr—told me. “These are all completely legitimate, understandable even predictable concerns coming from law enforcement and elsewhere.”

Politico cited several unnamed sources in reporting that “the encryption challenge, which the government calls ‘going dark,’ was the focus of a National Security Council meeting Wednesday morning that included the No. 2 officials from several key agencies.” The discussion focused on the lockdown of messaging apps, billed as “a privacy and security feature,” which “frustrates authorities investigating terrorism, drug trafficking and child pornography.”

Plunging the US into another war on encryption could be a disaster for the economy. In this day and age, many countries are vying to be a destination for technological innovation and investment. If the US carries through with another war on encryption, it sends a very clear signal to the entire technology community that America is closed for business. On the flip-side, it could theoretically be a major opportunity for other countries to attract that investment.

Another cause for concern is what happens to data in neighbouring countries like Canada and Mexico. With so much data flowing between these countries, an encryption war could have a spillover effect in a few other countries in the process. Of course, that all depends on how the US intends on carrying out this war.

Obviously, we aren’t officially seeing a war on encryption yet. Still, these latest developments could prove to be nerve rattling to those who believe in what little privacy American’s still enjoy in the country.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.



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