Federal Bureau of Investigation chief James Comey said earlier this week that strong encryption is damaging to the US government, as many of the Islamic State (ISIL) recruiters use messaging platforms with end-to-end encryption to avoid detection.
It is a familiar argument, used by UK Prime Minister David Cameron in the long standing battle against encryption. Both claim that the government should be given a backdoor into these communications, or encryption should be removed from services.
In the US, Comey is pushing for a “robust debate” on the usefulness of encryption on these services and products. He previously tried to win Congress over to ban iPhone and Android phone encryption, but failed to win over any member of Congress.
In an op-ed on Lawfare, the FBI chief states that the US is walking down a dark road, where the government will be unable to track anyone’s communications. As encryption gets harder to crack, it may be impossible for the FBI to assess a situation happening online.
The backlash against encryption is due to Apple, Google and Facebook all setting standard encryption on services, meaning it cannot give information on users to government or police.
Even though Comey has shown some annoyance at encryption, he is not going anywhere near as far as Cameron in the UK. The PM has plans to remove encryption or potentially shut down a company operating inside the UK.
Several encryption experts claim what Cameron is proposing will break the Internet, harm the UK economy and actually make UK citizens less safe. There is also no evidence to say if these encryption services are removed, that recruiters in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Yemen will not use others that the UK cannot shut down.
It is also a strawman’s argument to say that if everyone gives up their rights, we will be more safe. Cameron may not know this himself, since a lot of reports claim he knows little about technology, but surely his advisors must know the hole he’s digging for the UK people and economy.