Survey reveals major support for encryption backdoors for governments

US agencies batting for new legislation to enable encryption backdoors

Information security / Survey reveals major support for encryption backdoors for governments

Survey reveals major support for encryption backdoors for governments

Back in March, a few days after the Cambridge Analytica scandal rocked the world, Damian Collins MP, in a letter to Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg, suggested that the government could take over the responsibility of regulating data collection activities on social media in order to safeguard the privacy of citizens if Facebook was unable to do so.

"It is now time to hear from a senior Facebook executive with the sufficient authority to give an accurate account of this catastrophic failure of process ... Given your commitment at the start of the new year to ‘fixing’ Facebook, I hope that this representative will be you," he wrote.

"Someone has to take responsibility for this. It’s time for Mark Zuckerberg to stop hiding behind his Facebook page," he added.

Even in the United States where Cambridge Analytica was found collecting Facebook data of tens of millions of users prior to the 2016 presidential election, Senator Amy Klobuchar, who was a member of the Judiciary Committee that interrogated Mark Zuckerberg, said: "This is a major breach that must be investigated. It’s clear these platforms can’t police themselves".

"This is more evidence that the online political advertising market is essentially the Wild West. It’s clear that, left unregulated, this market will continue to be prone to deception and lacking in transparency," said Mark Warner, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

A recent survey carried out by security firm Venafi at the RSA Conference on whether governments should regulate the collection of personal data by social media companies revealed that 70 percent of security experts were in favour of such regulation even though 72 percent of them believed governments did not have a good understanding of the threats impacting digital privacy.

"These results are disturbing. While security professionals agree that government officials do not understand the nuances of social media and digital privacy, they’re still looking to them to regulate the technology that permeates our daily lives," said Kevin Bocek, vice president of security strategy and threat intelligence at Venafi.

Thumbs up to encryption backdoors

An alarming 45 percent of them also said that they were in favour of the government compelling private companies to build encryption backdoors, even though they believed government officials did not properly understand the cuurrent cyber threat landscape.

"It’s disheartening that so many security professionals think encryption backdoors will somehow make us safer. There is no question that they will undermine our global economy and make digital communication much more vulnerable.

"Any backdoor will be extremely lucrative, so cyber criminals will spend an enormous amount of effort to steal one. And once a backdoor is leaked it’s certain to be available to the highest bidders on the dark web," Bocek added.

Even though the regulation of data collection by companies on social media by governments could be considered slightly better than allowing social media firms to police themselves, such regulatory powers could easily be abused by governments to collect large quantities of data from social media platforms while clamping down on data collection by private firms.

Several UK government ministers including Amber Rudd and Minister of State for Security Ben Wallace have publicly called for exclusive encryption backdoors to be created for the government to safeguard national security.

In January, Wallace said that social media firms were forcing the government to spend millions on additional surveillance by denying it access to encrypted communication and therefore, could be taxed harder by the government to cover for hundreds of millions being spent on additional surveillance.

"We should stop pretending that because they [social media firms like Google and Facebook] sit on beanbags in T-shirts they are not ruthless profiteers. They will ruthlessly sell our details to loans and soft-porn companies but not give it to our democratically elected government.

"If they continue to be less than co-operative, we should look at things like tax as a way of incentivizing them or compensating for their inaction,' he warned.

Last year, Home Secretary Amber Rudd went so far as to say that encryption 'wasn't for real people' and that she didn't need to understand how encryption worked because it ultimately helped criminals.

"I don't need to understand how encryption works to understand how it's helping, end-to-end encryption, the criminals. I understand the principle of end-to-end encryption and the fact it can't be unwrapped... There are other areas, to do with metadata...to do with other access that could help and we don't get that help," she said.

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Jay Jay

Jay has been a technology reporter for almost a decade. When not writing about cybersecurity, he writes about mobile technology for the likes of Indian Express, TechRadar India and Android Headlines

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