Facebook's decision to default to end-to-end encryption for Facebook Messenger prompted the governments of the UK, the USA and Australia to write to Mark Zuckerberg, urging him to delay implementation of the move, warning him that adding working encryption by default would make it harder for spies and cops to do their jobs.
101 civil society groups have written back to the USA, UK and Australia to tell them that there is no such thing as encryption that protects good guys but lets cops spy on bad guys, so anything done to weaken security will put everyone at risk of surveillance -- from hostile foreign powers, criminal gangs, identity thieves, stalkers, domestic abusers, voyeurs, corporate espionage, and other bad actors.
The letter was led by the New America Foundation, and while the signatories include some usual suspects (EFF, ACLU, Amnesty International), it also includes a roster of the world's top security experts, and several trade associations.
Encryption is also essential to public safety and protecting vulnerable populations. A common, but problematic, argument law enforcement officials make in favor of encryption backdoors is that we must be willing to compromise the privacy and security protections offered by encryption in order to protect public safety. However, this argument fails to acknowledge that encryption, in fact, plays an essential role in protecting the public from crimes that cause physical injury and death. For instance, Cindy Southworth,the Executive Vice President at the U.S. National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), recently cautioned against introducing an exceptional access mechanism for law enforcement, in part, because of how it could threaten the safety of victims of domestic and gender-based violence and stalking.Specifically, she explained that she is “a proponent of encryption because it allows victims to control when and how they seek help, and that it is critical for protecting sensitive digital records, which have been stolen by abusers.”A recent fact sheet from LGBT Tech and the Internet Society states “without encryption, LGBTQ+ individuals living in or traveling to [countries where being LGBTQ+ is considered acriminal offense] may not be able to safely and comfortably find communities and outlets forself-expression and would be left vulnerable to prosecution and persecution.”
Beyond protecting national security and physical safety, encryption is also essential to reduction of other types of crime. Mobile devices like smartphones and communications services like email providers and messaging apps are increasingly used by people and businesses as a primary means for accessing andcommunicating sensitive and proprietary information like financial data, medical records, and intellectual property, in addition to ordinary personal communications. Whether protecting data at rest or in motion, encryption is central to reducing cybercrime, fraud, data breaches, and device theft. As noted in the 2018 report of the Technological Advisory Council (TAC) Mobile Device Theft Prevention (MDTP) WorkingGroup, a decline in mobile device theft coincides with the deployment of the anti-theft and security measures." If mobile device security was weakened by an encryption backdoor, the negative consequences to the economy and to data security would be unavoidable."
Open letter to the USA, UK and Australia [Access Now et al]