Petition on data encryption hits threshold for White House response

The Hill

A petition pressing the White House to renounce any policies that would undermine encryption has passed the threshold required to trigger a response from the Obama administration.

“We petition the Obama Administration to: Publicly affirm your support for strong encryption. Reject any law, policy, or mandate that would undermine our security,” reads the the petition, submitted on the White House’s “We The People” platform.The administration has pledged to respond to any petition that collects over 100,000 in 30 days, a feat the encryption plea accomplished several days shy of the 30-day window.

The petition is backed by a coalition that includes human rights organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, tech trade groups such as the Computer and Communications Industry Association, libertarian groups like the Niskanen Center and various tech leaders such as Twitter and privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo.

The tech community has been locked in a months-long battle with the Obama administration over encryption standards.

Law enforcement officials have long pushed for some type of process that would ensure investigators can access encrypted digital communications. But technologists and privacy advocates say any type of guaranteed pathway to this data would weaken encryption and expose individuals to hackers.

“Without strong encryption, the online lives of American citizens would be imperiled,” said Ryan Hagemann, the Niskanen Center’s technology and civil liberties policy analyst. “Financial transactions, retail purchases and e-commerce in general would suffer serious economic consequences if the security mechanisms that protect ordinary people online were intentionally weakened by the government.”

There is ample evidence the White House is coming around to the tech community’s position.

Earlier this month, the administration said it had decided not to pursue any legislation that would require companies to give law enforcement access to customers’ encrypted data.

“The United States will work to ensure that malicious actors can be held to account — without weakening our commitment to strong encryption,” National Security Council spokesman Mark Stroh said at the time. “As part of those efforts, we are actively engaged with private companies to ensure they understand the public safety and national security risks that result from malicious actors’ use of their encrypted products and services.”

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Camilla Wood

UK based Legal Aid Lawyer

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