The Obama administration has looked into four different approaches which tech companies could utilize that would enable law enforcement officials to unlock encrypted devices. Some tech firms claim that their systems are not designed to provide such access.
While the solutions were determined to be “technically feasible”, they also had some drawbacks.
The methods were examined as part of a major government discussion on how to deal with encryption. When encryption is put into place, nobody but the user of the device is able to view the information. This prevents people from seeing the personal e-mails and text messages of others.
Law enforcement officials have stated that the lack of access makes it difficult for them to do their jobs. They believe that having a warrant should grant them access to the information.
Officials from the Obama Administration say that they have no intentions to offer the approaches as “administration proposals”. The reason for this is because they are afraid that they would be publically attacked on the grounds that they do not support privacy.
Instead, the administration hopes to build cooperation with the tech companies and the public.
National Security Council spokesman Mark Stroh spoke on the matter.
“The United States government firmly supports the development and robust adoption of strong encryption, while acknowledging that use of encryption by terrorists and criminals to conceal and enable crimes and other malicious activity can pose serious challenges to public safety. The administration continues to welcome public discussion of this issue as we consider policy options,” he said.
The administration took a compromise, offering a set of principles designed to guide engagement with the private sector. Some of these principles include no bulk information collecting and no “golden keys” for the government to access encrypted data.
However, the group has asked federal law enforcement officials and intelligence agencies for their ideas. Despite this, the administration says that they were only exploring their possible options.
The potential solutions examined by the administration included adding an unlockable encrypted port to devices, hacking the devices, splitting encryption keys, and uploading data on an encrypted device to an unencrypted location. Each solution had its own pros and cons.
The methods described are referred to as “backdoor” by encryption experts, as they require developers to change their systems by including a mechanism for accessing content that is encrypted.
However, law enforcement officials have rejected the term “backdoor”. Instead, they want a method that provides clarity and transparency.
Additionally, people in the technology industry have argued that such methods of accessing encrypted data would weaken data security by adding new factors that might hide bugs and provide additional targets for hackers.
In the end, most officials acknowledge that they want the technology companies themselves to create solutions based on their own systems, rather than be bogged down by any federal requirement.
Whether or not the companies will willingly develop methods that make it possible to access encrypted data remains to be seen.