The U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing on July 8 to discuss the impact technological advancements have on the balance between public safety and privacy. Peter Swire, the Huang Professor of Law and Ethics at the Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business, was among the five experts who testified during the panel entitled: “Going Dark: Encryption, Technology, and the Balance Between Public Safety and Privacy.” Swire was a member of President Obama’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology. A condensed version of his testimony follows:
My testimony today is in three parts. First, the Review Group report concluded that strong cybersecurity and strong encryption should be vital national priorities. Our Recommendation 29 stated: “We recommend that, regarding encryption, the US Government should: fully support and not undermine efforts to create encryption standards; not in any way subvert, undermine, weaken, or make vulnerable generally available commercial software; and 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.”
Second, it is more accurate to say that we are in a “Golden Age of Surveillance” than for law enforcement to assert that it is “Going Dark.” In previous writings, I have agreed that there are indeed specific ways that law enforcement and national security agencies lose specific previous capabilities due to changing encryption technology. These specific losses, however, are more than offset by massive gains, including: location information; information about contacts and confederates; and an array of new databases that create digital dossiers about individuals’ lives.
In conclusion, providing access exceptions for U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies will be harmful, rather than helpful, to national security. Despite concerns of “going dark,” the steady increase of electronic communications worldwide provides these agencies with an ever-growing amount of valuable data and meta-data to use in identifying and pursuing targets of investigations. The inability to directly access the content of a small fraction of these communications does not warrant the subsequent damage that would result to privacy and to U.S. economic, diplomatic, and security interests.
The complete presentation can be found here.
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