Major Internet players, technology companies, human rights groups and civil liberty organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Twitter and Reddit successfully gathered over 100,000 signatures on a petition – dealing with the issue of cyber encryption – and submitted it to the White House. As a result, President Obama is now forced to publicly respond to the petition and describe the extent and nature of his commitment to protecting strong encryption practices.
The “We the People” platform was created by the United States government in 2011 as a “clear and easy way for the American people to petition their government.” Once a petition receives 100,000 signatures, the government guarantees a response.
The recent petition, called savecrypto.org, demands that Obama “publicly affirm [his] support for strong encryption,” and further to “reject any law, policy, or mandate that would undermine our security.”
The director of the FBI, James Comey, has been complaining for the past year about the dangers of end-to-end encryption. He claims that such encryption prevents law enforcement agencies from monitoring the communications involving terrorists and criminals. He has requested special access into certain encrypted communications – either a “back door” or “front door.”
Despite Comey’s concerns, privacy advocates and technologists insist that any access to encrypted data given to law enforcement can and will be exploited by hackers.
In a hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held earlier this month, Comey testified that the government was not requesting legislation to require companies to build backdoors into their products. (At least not yet.)
However, Robert S. Litt, a leading intelligence community lawyer, wrote in an email that was leaked to the Washington Post that the public’s opinion about this issue could change “in the event of a terrorist attack or criminal event” where encryption prevented law enforcement from detecting and discovering the threat. He advised in “keeping our options open for such a situation.”
Now, Obama will have to speak for himself.
Amie Stepanovich, the United States Policy Manager for digital rights group Access Now – one of the founders of the petition – stated that, “More than 100,000 users have now spoken up to ask the Administration to make a strong statement in support of data security – no back doors, no golden keys, no exceptional access. We thank those who have stood with us and look forward to President Obama’s response.”