Going Dark, Going Forward - An Encryption Update

To understand the use and impact of encryption, consider the following facts:

  • Forty-four percent (44%) of financial services use encryption technology.
  • 30 million householders use online banking.
  • E-commerce produces $341.7 billion of revenue to the U.S. economy.

Because encryption is frequently used by businesses and other people in their daily lives, the tragic events of Paris and in San Bernardino shows how encryption can also be used for wrong. Unfortunately, law enforcement has not developed the technology to break an encryption code.

The report recognizes this dilemma, as do most law enforcement officials. One approach that has been suggested comes from Professor Ron Canetti, a cryptology expert from Boston University. Professor Canetti called for law enforcement, “[to] concentrate on encryption made by bad guys. Making the everyday encryption of the general public weak isn’t going to get you what you want, [not] when it comes to coordinated terrorist attacks. There’s no silver bullet answers.”

The majority staff agreed with Professor Canetti’s perspective that there are no easy answers. The committee recommends and supports the call for a Digital Security Commission to address this dilemma. The Commission will include individuals from the various sectors that are impacted by encryption, including, but not limited to: law enforcement, e-commerce, tech, intelligence, data privacy, and civil liberties. The Commission’s focus will be to address the encryption issue and “develop policy and legislative recommendations to present to Congress.”

The committee recognizes that the encryption debate is a very complex matter and that it will take time to reach a consensus. Kudos to them for realizing this and hopefully, the committee members would heed their advice.

As former House speaker, Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and former House Intelligence Committee Jane Harman (D-CA) wrote, “The question of encryption is too central to this country’s future to answer without a real dialogue.”