Despite calls and pressure from several quarters, Microsoft Corporation, Google Inc. (now Alphabet Inc.),Apple Inc. And several other tech firms have declared a fight against weakening the encryption technology.
Under their umbrella technology trade support body- Information Technology Industry Council (ITIC), the companies rejected calls from various quarters including the White House and the Senate, to weaken encryption. Following the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, a debate emerged on whether the government should be allowed to access personal user data over the internet or not. There was asuspicion that the terrorists involved in the attacks used applications that were enhanced with the encryption technology to organize the attacks.
Indispensable tool for security
ITIC has criticized those supporting the weakening of encryption saying that the tech is an important security tool that assists in preventing all forms of cybercrimes such as stealing from bank accounts through hacking. The Council claims that giving the government the backdoor access to private user data will make the existing systems more susceptible to these forms of threats since this will increase the rate of accessibility to sensitive and crucial data.
Security agencies and policy makers drawn from both Europe and the U.S. have asked permission from some members of the ITIC to get decryption keys so as to foster detection of any terrorist activities and also to track down the terrorists. Through the ITIC President, Dean Garfield, the 63-member council says that they are still working on other solutions to solve this menace adding that weakening encryption isn’t an option after all.
Smartphones and the “smart” applications
It is believed that the recent Russian plane bombing that occurred in Egypt and the Paris attacks, both of which the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria(ISIS) has claimed responsibility, were planned and orchestrated using smartphone-based applications. Reports revealed that the terror group used Telegram, which is an app available for iOS and Android users, to coordinate the Paris attacks that claimed about 129 lives. ISIS uses high-encryption services to communicate, recruit new members, issue commands and plan attacks.
Apple Inc. And Alphabet Inc. has been under pressure from the government to avail decryption keys for iPhones and Android gadgets respectively. These two types of devices use disk-level technology. Apple has on its part insisted that decryption keys are out of their reach since they are stored on the handsets. According to Apple, decryption would mean restructuring its whole operating system and devising ways of obtaining inaccessible keys from the iPhones that are already in the market. A move that seems costly and risky to their customers’ security and privacy.
Two parallel battles
Apparently,it appears that the fight against terrorism and the encryption battlewill persist separately. While ITIC is claiming that there was alack of tangible evidence that encryption prevented the authorities from detecting ISIS moves, the government, through various agencies, is pushing for the weakening of encryption. The 1994 Communications Assistant for Law Enforcement Act does not permit legal scrutiny of online text messages, emails, and social network sites. FBI boss James Comey has been in the front line for the review of this policy to allow for the backdoor permission to access private user data.
Individual privacy and security or the war on terror? Whichever comes first should not compromise the general security.
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