Attorney General Explains U.S. Stance On Encryption Debate

January 22, 2016 - Written By John Anon

Smartphone encryption remains to be at the forefront of the news with a number of reports coming through of late. The most recent of which emerged earlier today when AT&T’s CEO, Randall Stephenson, was noted stating that the decision of whether to ban smartphones which come equipped with unbreakable encryption should be made by Congress. A stance which seems to be somewhat different from certain technology companies and certainly from the general consumer public who seem to prefer the idea of being able to fully protect their devices. Stephenson’s comments came in the lead up to the World Economic Forum which is currently taking place in Davos, Switzerland. Today at the same event, U.S. Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, has also been speaking on the subject of encryption.

One of the major definitions understood to be forming the basis of the debate on an unbreakable encryption ban is whether devices should come with access to a ‘back door’. Access which allows the actual enabled encryption to be simply bypassed. In essence, a route to negating the very purpose of encryption in the first place. One argument for the absence of such a back door is that if it is available to law enforcement agencies, then it will likely be available to criminals as well. In responding to questions asked about the use of a back door and especially for data which can be contained from the likes of WhatsApp, Lynch said that it is not their goal to create such a back door. However, in further explaining Lynch notes that in looking to “preserve encryption“, the idea is to also “preserve what we currently have“. Which Lynch defines as “the ability for companies to respond to law enforcement warrants, court-ordered, court authorized requests for information“. Presumably, this is meant to reflect the ability to access consumer data when needed with a view to combating activities which warrant further investigation. Not too far different from what many consumer’s might view as a ‘back door’.

This week has been a busy week in the encryption debate as this week also saw California join New York in introducing a bill which looks to ban the sale of smartphones that come with unbreakable encryption enabled. Whether such a ban does become law in either state remains to be seen for now. Although, it does look like the debate is likely to become more active in the meantime.