President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Obama,
May 19, 2015
We the undersigned represent a wide variety of civil society organizations dedicated to protecting civil liberties, human rights, and innovation online, as well as technology companies, trade associations, and security and policy experts. We are writing today to respond to recent statements by some Administration officials regarding the deployment of strong encryption technology in the devices and services offered by the U.S. technology industry. Those officials have suggested that American companies should refrain from providing any products that are secured by encryption, unless those companies also weaken their security in order to maintain the capability to decrypt their customers’ data at the government’s request. Some officials have gone so far as to suggest that Congress should act to ban such products or mandate such capabilities.
We urge you to reject any proposal that U.S. companies deliberately weaken the security of their products. We request that the White House instead focus on developing policies that will promote rather than undermine the wide adoption of strong encryption technology. Such policies will in turn help to promote and protect cybersecurity, economic growth, and human rights, both here and abroad.
Strong encryption is the cornerstone of the modern information economy’s security. Encryption protects billions of people every day against countless threats—be they street criminals trying to steal our phones and laptops, computer criminals trying to defraud us, corporate spies trying to obtain our companies’ most valuable trade secrets, repressive governments trying to stifle dissent, or foreign intelligence agencies trying to compromise our and our allies’ most sensitive national security secrets.
Encryption thereby protects us from innumerable criminal and national security threats. This protection would be undermined by the mandatory insertion of any new vulnerabilities into encrypted devices and services. Whether you call them “front doors” or “back doors”, introducing intentional vulnerabilities into secure products for the government’s use will make those products less secure against other attackers. Every computer security expert that has spoken publicly on this issue agrees on this point, including the government’s own experts.
In addition to undermining cybersecurity, any kind of vulnerability mandate would also seriously undermine our economic security. U.S. companies are already struggling to maintain international trust in the wake of revelations about the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs. Introducing mandatory vulnerabilities into American products would further push many customers—be they domestic or international,
individual or institutional—to turn away from those compromised products and services. Instead, they—and many of the bad actors whose behavior the government is hoping to impact—will simply rely on encrypted offerings from foreign providers, or avail themselves of the wide range of free and open source encryption products that are easily available online.
More than undermining every American’s cybersecurity and the nation’s economic security, introducing new vulnerabilities to weaken encrypted products in the U.S. would also undermine human rights and information security around the globe. If American companies maintain the ability to unlock their customers’ data and devices on request, governments other than the United States will demand the same access, and will also be emboldened to demand the same capability from their native companies. The U.S. government, having made the same demands, will have little room to object. The result will be an information environment riddled with vulnerabilities that could be exploited by even the most repressive or dangerous regimes. That’s not a future that the American people or the people of the world deserve.
The Administration faces a critical choice: will it adopt policies that foster a global digital ecosystem that is more secure, or less? That choice may well define the future of the Internet in the 21st century. When faced with a similar choice at the end of the last century, during the so-called “Crypto Wars”, U.S. policymakers weighed many of the same concerns and arguments that have been raised in the current debate, and correctly concluded that the serious costs of undermining encryption technology outweighed the purported benefits. So too did the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, who unanimously recommended in their December 2013 report that the US Government should “(1) fully support and not undermine efforts to create encryption standards; (2) not in any way subvert, undermine, weaken, or make vulnerable generally available commercial software; and (3) increase the use of encryption and urge US companies to do so, in order to better protect data in transit, at rest, in the cloud, and in other storage.”
We urge the Administration to follow the Review Group’s recommendation and adopt policies that promote rather than undermine the widespread adoption of strong encryption technologies, and by doing so help lead the way to a more secure, prosperous, and rights- respecting future for America and for the world.
Civil Society Organizations
Advocacy for Principled Action in Government American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) American Civil Liberties Union
American Library Association
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
Center for Democracy & Technology Committee to Protect Journalists
The Constitution Project Constitutional Alliance
Council on American-Islamic Relations Demand Progress
Defending Dissent Foundation DownsizeDC.org, Inc.
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)
Fight for the Future
Free Software Foundation
Freedom of the Press Foundation
The Media Consortium
New America’s Open Technology Institute
Open Source Initiative
Project Censored/Media Freedom Foundation
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
The Tor Project
U.S. Public Policy Council of Association for Computing Machinery World Privacy Forum
Companies & Trade Associations
ACT | The App Association
The Application Developers Alliance Automattic
Cloud Linux Inc.
Computer & Communications Industry Association Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)
Context Relevant The Copia Institute CREDO Mobile Data Foundry
HackerOne Hackers/Founders Hewlett-Packard Company Internet Archive
The Internet Association
Internet Infrastructure Coalition (i2Coalition) Level 3 Communications
Open Spectrum Inc.
Reform Government Surveillance
Slack Technologies, Inc.
Tech Assets Inc.
Security and Policy Experts*
Hal Abelson, Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Ben Adida, VP Engineering, Clever Inc.
Jacob Appelbaum, The Tor Project
Adam Back, PhD, Inventor, HashCash, Co-Founder & President, Blockstream Alvaro Bedoya, Executive Director, Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown
Brian Behlendorf, Open Source software pioneer
Steven M. Bellovin, Percy K. and Vida L.W. Hudson Professor of Computer Science,
Matt Bishop, Professor of Computer Science, University of California at Davis Matthew Blaze, Director, Distributed Systems Laboratory, University of Pennsylvania
Dan Boneh, Professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at Stanford University
Eric Burger, Research Professor of Computer Science and Director, Security and Software Engineering Research Center (Georgetown), Georgetown University
Jon Callas, CTO, Silent Circle
L. Jean Camp, Professor of Informatics, Indiana University
Richard A. Clarke, Chairman, Good Harbor Security Risk Management
Gabriella Coleman, Wolfe Chair in Scientific and Technological Literacy, McGill
Whitfield Diffie, Dr. sc. techn., Center for International Security and Cooperation,
David Evans, Professor of Computer Science, University of Virginia
David J. Farber, Alfred Filter Moore Professor Emeritus of Telecommunications,
University of Pennsylvania
Dan Farmer, Security Consultant and Researcher, Vicious Fishes Consulting
Rik Farrow, Internet Security
Joan Feigenbaum, Department Chair and Grace Murray Hopper Professor of Computer
Science Yale University
Richard Forno, Jr. Affiliate Scholar, Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society Alex Fowler, Co-Founder & SVP, Blockstream
Jim Fruchterman, Founder and CEO, Benetech
Daniel Kahn Gillmor, ACLU Staff Technologist
Robert Graham, creator of BlackICE, sidejacking, and masscan
Jennifer Stisa Granick, Director of Civil Liberties, Stanford Center for Internet and
Matthew D. Green, Assistant Research Professor, Johns Hopkins University Information
Robert Hansen, Vice President of Labs at WhiteHat Security
Lance Hoffman, Director, George Washington University, Cyber Security Policy and
Marcia Hofmann, Law Office of Marcia Hofmann
Nadim Kobeissi, PhD Researcher, INRIA
Joseph Lorenzo Hall, Chief Technologist, Center for Democracy & Technology
Nadia Heninger, Assistant Professor, Department of Computer and Information Science,
University of Pennsylvania
David S. Isenberg, Producer, Freedom 2 Connect
Douglas W. Jones, Department of Computer Science, University of Iowa
Susan Landau, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Gordon Fyodor Lyon, Founder, Nmap Security Scanner Project
Aaron Massey, Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Interactive Computing, Georgia Institute
Jonathan Mayer, Graduate Fellow, Stanford University
Jeff Moss, Founder, DEF CON and Black Hat security conferences
Peter G. Neumann, Senior Principal Scientist, SRI International Computer Science Lab,
Moderator of the ACM Risks Forum Ken Pfeil, former CISO at Pioneer Investments
Ronald L. Rivest, Vannevar Bush Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Paul Rosenzweig, Professorial Lecturer in Law, George Washington University School of
Jeffrey I. Schiller, Area Director for Security, Internet Engineering Task Force (1994-
2003), Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Bruce Schneier, Fellow, Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard Law School Micah Sherr, Assistant Professor of Computer Science, Georgetown University
Adam Shostack, author, “Threat Modeling: Designing for Security”
Eugene H. Spafford, CERIAS Executive Director, Purdue University
Alex Stamos, CISO, Yahoo
Geoffrey R. Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law, The
University of Chicago
Peter Swire, Huang Professor of Law and Ethics, Scheller College of Business, Georgia
Institute of Technology
C. Thomas (Space Rogue), Security Strategist, Tenable Network Security
Dan S. Wallach, Professor, Department of Computer Science and Rice Scholar, Baker
Institute of Public Policy
Nicholas Weaver, Researcher, International Computer Science Institute Chris Wysopal, Co-Founder and CTO, Veracode, Inc.
Philip Zimmermann, Chief Scientist and Co-Founder, Silent Circle
*Affiliations provided only for identification purposes.
Encryption is a security issue and a privacy issue, and those are two matters that i2Coalition, cares deeply about. We work on behalf of members of the internet infrastructure industry who builds and supports environments that are private and secure. We have been keeping a close eye on what is going on in Washington regarding talks about mandating encryption backdoors for law enforcement – we don’t believe in it.
There are many, many reasons why encryption backdoors are a bad idea, aside from the obvious that we don’t believe that tools for mass surveillance should be supported. A backdoor for law enforcement is a front door for hackers. This kind of government action makes the Internet as a whole more dangerous. Those who support encryption back doors make the case for public safety, but no system is safer with these options. We recently signed New America’s Open Technology Institute’s letter to President Obama urging him to end encryption backdoors. You can find the letter below.