Saturday, January 2, 2016

Family Tech: Giving good guys access to encrypted messages may give it to bad guys - January 1, 2016

Following the recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, some politicians are again trumpeting the need to give law enforcement access to all encrypted messages.

The theory is, if we could read the texts and email terrorists send and receive, we would know their plans.

A law would require makers of encryption products to build a backdoor into their software that law enforcement would access.

FBI Director James B. Comey has long advocated law enforcement be given this tool. The New York Times reported recently it appeared Comey had lost an internal struggle within the administration to force Apple, Google and others to decode messages for law enforcement.

It is unclear how, or even if, security software made in other countries could be compelled to provide backdoors to U.S. law enforcement.

The easiest way to understand how this might work is to look at a physical system. The Transportation Safety Administration requires the ability to unlock suitcases for security inspections. There are luggage locks that give you a unique key to your lock, but also allow a TSA master key to open the lock.

This is the best of both worlds, theoretically. Only you and the TSA can open your luggage.

At first glance, giving this same kind of protection to digital suitcases (i.e. messages,) seems like a no brainer; let law enforcement read messages, but keep others out. 

There is another side we need to consider.

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