US sig­nals tougher stance with tech com­pa­nies on en­cryp­tion

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

WASH­ING­TON: US Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Rod Rosen­stein on Tues­day sharply crit­i­cized tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies that have built strongly en­crypted prod­ucts, sug­gest­ing Sil­i­con Val­ley is more will­ing to com­ply with for­eign gov­ern­ment de­mands for data than those made by their home coun­try. While echo­ing many ar­gu­ments made by pre­vi­ous se­nior US law en­force­ment of­fi­cials, Rosen­stein struck a harder line than his pre­de­ces­sors who led the Obama Jus­tice Depart­ment, dis­miss­ing at­tempts to ne­go­ti­ate with the tech sec­tor as a waste of time and ac­cus­ing com­pa­nies of putting sales over stop­ping crime.

“Com­pany lead­ers may be will­ing to meet, but of­ten they re­spond by crit­i­ciz­ing the gov­ern­ment and promis­ing stronger en­cryp­tion,” Rosen­stein said dur­ing a speech at the US Naval Academy in Mary­land, ac­cord­ing to a copy of his re­marks. “Of course they do. They are in the busi­ness of sell­ing prod­ucts and mak­ing money . ... We are in the busi­ness of pre­vent­ing crime and sav­ing lives.”

Rosen­stein’s first lengthy com­ments on en­cryp­tion sig­naled a de­sire for Congress to write leg­is­la­tion man­dat­ing that com­pa­nies pro­vide ac­cess to en­crypted prod­ucts when a law en­force­ment agency ob­tains a court or­der. Tech com­pa­nies and many cy­ber se­cu­rity ex­perts say re­quir­ing law en­force­ment ac­cess to en­crypted prod­ucts will broadly weaken cy­ber se­cu­rity for ev­ery­one. US of­fi­cials have coun­tered that de­fault en­cryp­tion set­tings hin­der their abil­ity to col­lect ev­i­dence needed to pur­sue crim­i­nals.

Pre­vi­ous of­fi­cials have urged such an ap­proach, but Rosen­stein more di­rectly crit­i­cized Sil­i­con Val­ley. He cited a se­ries of me­dia re­ports to sug­gest US-based com­pa­nies are more will­ing to ac­cede to de­mands for data from for­eign gov­ern­ments than they are from the United States.

The re­marks were quickly de­nounced by sup­port­ers of strong en­cryp­tion. “De­spite his at­tempts at re­brand­ing, a gov­ern­ment back­door by an­other name will still make it eas­ier for crim­i­nals, preda­tors and for­eign hack­ers to break into our phones and com­put­ers,” Demo­cratic Sen­a­tor Ron Wy­den said in a state­ment.

The decades-old feud over en­cryp­tion reignited last year when the Jus­tice Depart­ment at­tempted to force Ap­ple Inc to break into an iPhone used by a gun­man dur­ing a mass shoot­ing in San Bernardino, California. The clash sub­sided when an uniden­ti­fied third party out­side the gov­ern­ment came for­ward with a way to crack the phone.

Some US law­mak­ers ex­pressed in­ter­est in leg­is­la­tion that would re­quire com­pa­nies to help law en­force­ment ac­cess en­crypted data. The ef­fort crum­bled due to a lack of po­lit­i­cal sup­port and a de­ci­sion by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to not en­dorse it. — Reuters

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