Encryption is a tool that the government should not have backdoors through because it is an infringement of privacy, a security flaw, and will not even impede criminals. Recently, the topic of encryption has been up for debate among the people and among government officials. The case of the San Bernardino attack was the spark that brought it to the forefront. Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the shooters in this act of terrorism, had an encrypted iPhone. The FBI requested that Apple develop software that will allow them to access the shooter’s phone, and Apple denied their request. CEO Tim Cook said that such a thing would be, “the software equivalent of cancer” (Francis). From this event, America has been forced to consider the idea of disposing of security technology that been silently protecting our data since 1973 in order to maintain national security (Galbraith).
First, allowing the government to bypass the protection of citizens’ private property is a huge slippery slope. The idea of privacy in modern America has already been shattered by the reveal of government spy tactics in recent years. Thanks to Edward Snowden, the conduct of government organizations like the NSA have been a public testament to the abuse of outdated laws. The Patriot Act was enacted after the events of 9/11 to prevent terrorism. However, included in that law was the ability for government officials to spy on everyone’s phone data. This meant the calls of the people were being wiretapped and the NSA has knowledge on everyone’s business. However, this has done nothing to stop terrorism. There are too many examples of attacks that have been allowed to happen even with the surveillance of the NSA: Boston, Colorado Springs, and now San Bernardino. They claimed that knowing our phone data would protect us, but it did not. Even the original writer of the Patriot Act, Jim Sensenbrenner, says it has been abused and ineffective in counteracting terrorism. According to the Washington Post, Mr. Sensenbrenner was vocal on how the, “legislation has been used to justify broad National Security Agency spying powers since they came to light due to documents from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden,” (Peterson). Mr. Sensenbrenner has then gone on to help enact the Freedom Act, which worked to reverse the flaws of the Patriot Act. Encryption has become method for people to shield themselves from being spied on. It ensures that every person continues to have the right to privacy as technology accelerates. The FBI’s request to circumvent this is the same situation America has been through under the Patriot Act. Decryption of iPhones is just as bad if not worse than tracking calls. If encryption is taken done the same route, citizens will only lose more privacy, which is something scarce nowadays. Citizens need to back up Apple in this case, so that they may continue to protect themselves. If they do not – if the government is allowed to crawl deeper into our lives – they risk losing all privacy under this precedent.
Secondly, losing encryption poses a significant security concern for everyone. Encryption is what keeps people safe, not only from being spied on by the government, but from criminals and hackers. Our data is unable to be read by criminals behind encryption. If laws are enacted outlawing the use of encryption, everyone becomes vulnerable. Things friends send between each other through their phones will not just be read by government employees. Even if one supports the government and is willing to allow them to read the messages they send, they will almost definitely not want a hacker to do the same. Hackers will have an infinitely easier time accessing our data. Everything from personal information to highly important data like credit cards, bank accounts, and passwords will be vulnerable. Thus, everyone should support the use of encryption. It is not a tool for criminals because they would actually be overjoyed to have removed. Some argue that backdoor only accessible to the government could be created, solving the issue of hackers whilst giving the FBI a way to monitor criminal activity. However, such a concept is also in our history books. In the 90s, a time when computers were just starting to emerge as the next big thing, “The advent of available, inexpensive powerful encryption software based on the virtually ‘uncrackable’ RSA algorithms, coupled with the Clinton administration’s response in the form of the Clipper Chip proposal, has produced a heated public debate which extends far beyond technical issues to the very core of the constitutional rights and freedoms of American citizens,” (Scalera). The clipper chip was designed to give the government a way in whilst keeping hackers out. This fell short because in almost no time at all, the security of the clipper chip was breached by a computer scientist named Matt Blaze. The project was abandoned shortly thereafter. The issue of security is just as much a repeat of history as the issue of privacy. No matter how much the government says it will protect us, it will fundamentally destroy the security we so desire. Our data will not only be breached by the government, but by any person that wants to.
Lastly, removing encryption from the citizens leaves only encryption for criminals. If the government decides that encryption is detrimental to our national security, law-abiding citizens and companies based in the United States will be forced to comply. Terrorists, however, will be unaffected. They do not act in the realm of the law in the first place. They will continue to encrypt their information through other means. If it’s not WhatsApp, it will be Telegram, Threemo, or Silent Phone. There is an endless list of apps that encrypt data. One who needs the security that encryption provides will always be able to find it. Furthermore, nearly two-thirds of these companies are based out of the United States (Schneier). That means they are not under the rule of US law. Outlawing encryption will only hurt our citizens, and empower our enemies. It is entirely ineffective. Even if by some way the U.S. is able to ban Apple and all software companies in the world from developing encryption, terrorists will just use burner phones. In fact, that’s exactly what the attackers in Paris did. Out of the evidence discovered, one phone a terrorist used “had a Belgian SIM card that had been in use only since the day before the attack. The phone had called just one other number—belonging to an unidentified user in Belgium,” (Callimachi). The process is so arbitrarily simple, the argument for decryption sounds absolutely ludicrous. All that needs to be done is buy some cheap $20 smartphones and then dispose of it after using it to communicate a couple of times. When they shell out money to stockpile guns and bombs, a couple of spare phones is nothing to them. Removing encryption from phones is trying to give terrorists a problem that they’ve already solved. There is no foundation to even argue that encryption is a tool only those who have something to hide need because they do not need it; meanwhile, normal people do.
Encryption is important to everyone and it would be detrimental to America if it was taken away or easily bypassed. Apple is completely in the right in this case. The FBI should not have asked for such a breach of privacy, that would be the equivalent of leaving the front door unlocked, and then realize it was completely unnecessary for the people they thought it was protecting. Apple was brave to not follow the orders of the U.S. government, but it is time for America to shed their cowardice too. Terrorism is still prevalent, with the recent Brussels attack in the back of everyone’s mind. It’s time for everyone think long and hard about how we’re going to deal with this enormous problem on the global scale, even if decryption isn’t the solution. Perhaps one of the first things we should look at is the U.S. support of dictators and their sponsorship of terrorism (How to Stop Terrorism: Seven Ways to “Drain the Swamp).
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