US senators on Tuesday delivered a warning to tech companies to provide security operatives with access to encryption on devices and messages or will be prosecuted.
US (United States) Republican and Democratic senators where in rare agreement as they grilled Apple and Facebook executives over their encryption practices and threatened to regulate the technology unless the companies make encrypted user data accessible to law enforcement.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, which was chaired by Senator Lindsey Graham, told the tech companies to provide all necessary information to law enforcement.
Senator Dick Durbin, also re-emphasized Graham’s warning, stating that the encryption debate is about whether to allow companies to be beyond the reach of the law.
The Judiciary Committee claims the increase rate of child abuse, terrorism, and mass shooting cases in the country is a result of encryption which has blocked access to crucial evidence and obstructed investigations.
Law enforcement officials further argued that encryption keeps them from accessing criminals’ devices, even under a court order or sometimes after death. They noted that encryption prevents them from detecting internet-based crimes.
Tech companies, ascertain that their focus remains to protect user privacy, and they say that creating a key or backdoor into the devices or messages makes the system vulnerable to malicious actors.
Company representatives Jay Sullivan (Facebook) and Erik Neuenschwander (Apple) at the hearing were joined by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance and Matt Tait, a cybersecurity fellow at the University of Texas at Austin, to discuss encryption and lawful access.
Tait testified that while technology companies can develop an improved encryption system, they don’t have the incentives.
In their testimony, Sullivan traded barbs with Neuenschwander, and both suggested to lawmakers to focus their scrutiny on the other company’s business.
Notably, a bill to ban warrant-proof encryption was previously launched in early 2016 but failed to be passed by the Senate.
Encryption advocates react
Jay Sullivan, a Facebook privacy executive, said during the hearing that the social giant removes over 250,000 encrypted accounts each month for child abuse.
Advocates are reacting to the Senate declaration in hundreds. Many of these advocates stated that focusing on criminals fails to acknowledge the danger that billions of non-criminals who use encrypted systems would face without secure encryption.
Amie Stepanovich, executive director of Silicon Flatirons, an innovation center at the University of Colorado, disagrees with this new initiative.
Whitehouse asks if Apple is willing to accept liability if someone dies because of encryption.
Who accepts liability if (when) someone dies because of inadequate/lack of encryption?
— Amie Stepanovich (@astepanovich) December 10, 2019
Johns Hopkins, a Professor of Strategic Studies at Thomas Rid University, argued in favor of the tech companies stating that protecting encryption is more important than the impeachment debate.
Facebook issued multiple lawsuits
Facebook has recently been battling with numerous government lawsuits since announcing its plan to extend end-to-end encrypted messaging services.
In October, US Attorney General William Barr and law enforcement chiefs of the United Kingdom and Australia called on the world’s biggest social network not to proceed with its plan unless law enforcement officials get backdoor access.
Facebook went ahead to reject the proposed government plan.
Apple as well overcame a legal fight in 2016, when the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) sought access to an iPhone owned by a slain sympathizer of Islamic State in California, who had murdered county employees.
In case you’re wondering…
Encryption is the process of converting a normal message (plaintext) into a meaningless message (Ciphertext). Whereas Decryption is the process of converting a meaningless message (Ciphertext) into its original form (Plaintext).
Encryption algorithms assist in the process of transforming plain text into encrypted text, and then back to plain text for the purpose of securing electronic data when it is transported over networks. By coding or encrypting data, hackers or other unauthorized users are generally unable to access such information.