Tech giants appeal to Obama to reject smartphone backdoor proposal

Leading technology companies such as Google, Apple, and a few others, along with a bunch of cryptologists have requested President Obama to protect privacy rights and avoid any backdoor entry for police access to encrypted smartphone data.

Through a signed letter sent to the Obama administration the technology firms and cryptologists petitioned President Obama to reject any government proposal to alter the security of smartphones. They have urged the White House to help protect strong encryption without succumbing to the pressure created by the FBI, law enforcement, or other surveillance agencies.

Letter Calling for Stronger Encryption

The letter, signed by several leading technology firms (over 140) and security experts was received by The Washington Post earlier this week.

The signatories also include three of the five members of the presidential review group, selected by President Obama in 2013, to evaluate technology policies following the leaks by former NSA (National Security Agency) contractor Edward Snowden.

The group’s recommendation is for the government to “fully support and not undermine efforts to create encryption standards,” and not “in any way subvert, undermine, weaken, or make vulnerable” commercial software.

The letter clearly highlights the group’s belief that “strong encryption is the cornerstone of the modern information economy’s security.”

The letter requests the White House to instead focus on initiating policies that will promote the usage of strong encryption technology in a bid to protect cyber security.

FBI Indicating Significant Threat to Public Safety

The FBI and Justice Department officials have expressed their support for encryption technology. However, they wish to have lawful access to the decrypted data.

A statement made by FBI Director James Comey—where he mentioned the need to have a balance between protecting privacy (on mobile devices) as well as protecting innocent people—illustrated this further. According to the FBI public safety is the top priority, and not having access to the communications data of criminals is an immensely significant threat.

As per cryptologists and security experts the FBI can be granted access to the smartphone data only in the form of a backdoor, which means creating separate keys to unlock the data. According to them such a backdoor option could make the smartphone data vulnerable to attacks by hackers as well. They have said that it is technologically infeasible to have a backdoor built into encrypted data, which could only be unlocked by the FBI and surveillance agencies.

After reading the views of both the parties (FBI and technology firms), who do you think has a more reasonable demand? Do you believe the letter to Obama will lead to any conclusive decision about the protection of privacy rights for mobile communications data?

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