Tech Talk: Encryption Law Debate Is Smoldering

In the United States and elsewhere, the debate rages on as to the ethical implications of strong device encryption, especially when it comes to smartphones. An encrypted device can be difficult, if not impossible for anybody to break into, even law enforcement or the device manufacturer. Most smartphones these days have the ability to completely encrypt their contents, and many apps offer end to end encryption, or the ability to send encrypted data that will only unlock for the target party, who will send a similar package back. When a smartphone is used in a crime, however, such as the infamous iPhone involved in the San Bernardino tragedy and the ensuing backdoor debate, the question of whether everybody should have access to encryption becomes a bit of a moral and legal gray area.

When the FBI got a third party's help and broke into the iPhone in question, it wasn't until they had already been involved in a lengthy, high-profile court case with Apple that had just about everybody choosing sides. Essentially, it was the tech world versus the government. The highly divisive case was in vogue for a number of months before seemingly fading away in the wake of the FBI getting what they needed from the infamous device. While the battle at hand in the encryption war had been won by the powers that be, the war itself was still on. The public, for the most part, became much more aware of the concept and importance of encryption and personal security. Lawmakers, however, saw waning support for the creation of laws concerning encryption.

The fight over encryption, as it were, is only one battle in a long and ongoing series of clashes. For a good while, the government has been able to use technology to observe citizens. With the signing of the Patriot Act after the September 11 attacks, the conflict came to an ugly head, with both sides going to irrational extremes; while everyday citizens had their data compromised and were frisked, probed and otherwise invaded, people began to indulge paranoid tendencies bordering on outright delusional. Many concepts that are still fought over today rose to prominence during this time, such as "chemtrails", observation through computers and phones, and even some people saying that the government was working to engineer the collapse of the American populace. To call it chaos would be a bit of an understatement. When former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked national secrets concerning public surveillance and gained worldwide fame and notoriety for it, the conflict grew to a fervor again, though not quite to the level inspired by the Patriot Act. A third spike, as you likely know if you're reading this, occurred with the San Bernardino tragedies sparking the inclusion of encryption into the debate.

After the original fervor waned, however, many prominent government figures who had chosen sides withdrew their support or pulled out of the conflict altogether. Some of the public speculated that these figures had a hard time picking a side and originally chose because they felt pressured, while others may have said that they only made such choices in the first place to garner public support from one camp or another. The overarching, indisputable fact, however, was that these government figures were no longer fighting over whether a law against encryption in some form should be enacted.

Senators Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein had drafted up a possible bill earlier in the year, but it was revealed recently that it will not be introduced. This comes after Burr had stated on numerous occasions that some sort of legislation on the matter was inevitable. Despite everything that had happened with Apple, the White House simply wouldn't bite on any legislation concerning encryption; presumably, this was due to the impending election. Efforts by the Justice Department to get laws enacted to help bring to light those who chose to "go black", or cut off surveillance, had been shot down repeatedly in the past, sometimes due to insufficient substantial evidence of a reason to sign the law and sometimes due to concerns over whether the law in question would adhere to the Constitution, the core of American law and a guideline for basic rights, a line that lawmakers aren't supposed to cross. Some, like Senator Lindsey Graham, initially supported legislation, but performed a quick 180 after talking to people in both camps and learning the facts. A bill introduced by Senator Mark Warner is meant to study the issue and come to a conclusion of some sort on whether legislation is needed, but for now, the encrypted phone you may be reading this on is safe.

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About the Author
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Daniel Fuller

Senior Staff Writer
Daniel has been writing for Android Headlines since 2015, and is one of the site's Senior Staff Writers. He's been living the Android life since 2010, and has been interested in technology of all sorts since childhood. His personal, educational and professional backgrounds in computer science, gaming, literature, and music leave him uniquely equipped to handle a wide range of news topics for the site. These include the likes of machine learning, voice assistants, AI technology development, and hot gaming news in the Android world. Contact him at [email protected]
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