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Released Documents Show NSA Actually Surprised To Find Itself Portrayed Negatively In Popular Culture

January 27, 2016

The NSA may know lots of stuff about lots of people, but it’s still fairly clueless about how the world works. Documents obtained by Buzzfeed’s Andrew Kaczynski show the NSA was shocked to find it hadn’t been portrayed more favorably in a major motion picture.
The National Security Agency attempted a public relations makeover in 1998 via the Jerry Bruckheimer–produced spy thriller Enemy of the State, but the agency was disappointed it was portrayed as the “bad guys” in the film, internal emails between agency officials obtained by BuzzFeed News through the Freedom of Information Act show.

One employee wrote in 1998, “Unfortunately, the truth isn’t always as riveting as fiction and creative license may mean that ‘the NSA,’ as portrayed in a given production, bears little resemblance to the place where we all work.”
Even in the halcyon pre-Snowden days, it was unlikely a massive government spy agency would be depicted as “lawful neutral,” much less “good” in any form of entertainment media. Shadowy agencies make for great conspiracy theories and potentially riveting entertainment (as for “Enemy of the State,” YMMV…). Certainly, it’s unlikely that the NSA would kill a congressional representative for opposing surveillance expansion and it probably doesn’t have any “goons” to send out to intimidate witnesses (that’s more of a CIA thing…). But for the NSA to expect it would be portrayed as the heroes — despite holding meetings with the producers before the film’s release — is a pretty good indication of how isolated it is from the general public.

This brief burst of reality led to a facesaving effort by the NSA, spearheaded by Michael Hayden, who invited CNN to profile the agency to counteract the negative portrayal. Fighting pop culture with pitched puff pieces is a terrible way to rehabilitate a reputation, but that’s the NSA for you. It’s never going to win hearts and minds. (I was originally going to add some qualifiers to the previous sentence but couldn’t find any that worked.) Any effort expended in this area is wasted.

Even more hilarious than the NSA’s dismay at this completely predictable pop culture portrayal is its employees’ complaints about violated privacy.
“I was standing in the parking lot staring like an idiot, wondering why this helicopter with some strange object underneath it was hovering over me,” one employee complained after a production helicopter flew above the agency to get establishing shots. “Will Touchstone be getting in touch with me so I can get paid for my appearance in this movie? Because I have no intention of allowing my image to be used for free,” the employee concluded, unaware of public access laws…

One employee fretted that their car would now be seen in the film, while another complained that his window blinds were up during filming.
Yes, you can fly an aircraft over the NSA headquarters and no one can do anything about it. As long as you follow the FAA guidelines, you can capture establishing shots or vehicles in the parking lot or any “idiot” staring at your aircraft. The NSA is not a military base and very little about what goes on inside can be determined from 500 feet above the building.

Still, as Kaczynski notes, the negative portrayal of the agency and the intrusion of unwanted aerial “surveillance” did little to stifle employee enthusiasm for the upcoming film. Unfortunately, the released documents do not contain post-viewing comments from NSA staff after they’d shelled out $5 for the dubious privilege of watching their big screen counterparts murder a congressman and intimidate a witness.

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Data and Goliath: The War Against Government Surveillance Could Be Lost Forever

January 25, 2016

At the end of 2015, tyranny was codified into law with the ratification of the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), a name that pays lip service to the nefarious and deceptive purpose that the law really embodies. CISA is a surveillance law of the worst kind, bent on circumnavigating current legislation and protections to create a culture of fear and paranoia all in order to prevent people from standing for privacy.

CISA is the most recent incarnation of a Congressional pretext to disguise the burgeoning federal authority to access information without warrants under the guise of “information sharing”. Designed to allow organizations to “share information more easily in order to prevent cyber attacks”, CISA actually creates massive loopholes that allow companies to share any information with the government reportedly without legal consequence.

Corporations can and will be forced to hand over data circumnavigating current privacy laws under the guise of “cybersecurity”. This information is automatically shared with the National Security Agency (NSA), who has no restrictions on how the data is used.

CISA was valiantly fought against since the legislation was proposed in 2011, and it took an insidious form of law smuggling by the sponsors to get it approved in the House after the Senate ratified it in October. Last year, House Speaker Paul Ryan announced a newly minted version of the omnibus bill, an agreement that must pass because it funds the federal government well into the next year. CISA was ensconced inside the legislation, ensuring that it was passed after being stripped of the weak privacy protections that initial drafts did contain.

The full text of the omnibus bill (2000 pages) was released on December 14th, with CISA buried on page 1728. The vote was set for four days later, giving representatives no time for a debate on a vital budget bill that also had provisions about Syrian refugees, oil exports and the Obamacare “Cadillac tax”.

Even worse, the final vote was carefully calculated to minimize public fallout as it was scheduled on the last Friday before Christmas to keep it out of the day’s news.

With a swift stroke of the pen by President Obama, thanks to some help by some unscrupulous Congressmen, the American people let tyranny win and stayed completely silent.

United States Representative Justin Amash later asserted after the vote that “many of my colleagues remain unaware” about a bill that he calls the “worst surveillance bill since the Patriot Act” because they may have “been misled into believing this bill is about cybersecurity.”

The provisions within CISA ensure that citizens will have no way of knowing if their data has been shared by corporations or federal agencies. The government now has the power to use the information it acquires to prosecute any type of criminal activity and does not have to scrub personal information unrelated to “cyber threats”. Legal immunity to a variety of actors is rampant through the legislation – only ensuring that data will continue to be stolen from millions of citizens, organisations and businesses and used against them.

The extrajudicial cyberwar against the personal and everyday information of millions continues to wage unchecked at will.

Fortunately, some steps can be taken to draw a line in the sand as CISA provisions only apply to American companies or programs hosted in the United States.

Using privacy services such as VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) and programs that emphasise end to end encryption provide protections that stand strong via mathematical laws. Using internet browsers that do not collect data and practicing basic internet security are some of the simplest ways to begin to protect yourself. The above is not an all encompassing list of steps, rather it is a laundry list of how anyone can begin to regain their privacy while they are online.

The best way to fight against CISA and its draconian siblings is to create a culture of encryption among all citizens.

Overall, CISA only expands the government’s surveillance program and will be used to investigate, threaten and incarcerate more citizens as human rights and protections are pitted against security.

The warning signs are clear.
Tyranny continues to creep surreptitiously into the American consciousness.
The only thing that we will remember is the silence of those who could of made a change.

Don’t be on the wrong side of history.

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Why is Microsoft monitoring how long you use Windows 10?

January 5, 2016

The various privacy concerns surrounding Windows 10 have received a lot of coverage in the media, but it seems that there are ever more secrets coming to light. The Threshold 2 Update did nothing to curtail privacy invasion, and the latest Windows 10 installation figures show that Microsoft is also monitoring how long people are using the operating system.

This might seem like a slightly strange statistic for Microsoft to keep track of, but the company knows how long, collectively, Windows 10 has been running on computers around the world. To have reached this figure (11 billion hours in December, apparently) Microsoft must have been logging individuals’ usage times. Intrigued, we contacted Microsoft to find out what on earth is going on.

If the company has indeed been checking up on when you are clocking in and out of Windows 10, it’s not going to admit it. I asked how Microsoft has been able to determine the 11 billion hours figure. Is this another invasion of privacy, another instance of spying that users should be worried about? “I just wanted to check where this figure came from. Is it a case of asking people and calculating an average, working with data from a representative sample of people, or it is a case of monitoring every Windows 10 installation?”

You think that Microsoft — keen as it is on transparency — would be quite happy to explain how it came about the information, and why it is being collected in the first place. But no. A Microsoft spokesperson provided BetaNews with the following statement:

Thank you for your patience as I looked into this for you. Unfortunately my colleagues cannot provide a comment regarding your request. All we have to share is this Windows blog post.

Microsoft’s spying is intrusive enough to reveal how long you have been using Windows 10, but the company is not willing to be open about the collection of this data.

Cause for concern, or is this just another example of what we have come to expect from Microsoft?

Photo credit: veronchick84 / Shutterstock

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A Secret Catalogue of Government Gear for Spying on Your Cellphone

December 18, 2015

The intercept has obtained a secret, internal U.S. government catalogue of dozens of cellphone surveillance devices used by the military and by intelligence agencies. The document, thick with previously undisclosed information, also offers rare insight into the spying capabilities of federal law enforcement and local police inside the United States.

The catalogue includes details on the Stingray, a well-known brand of surveillance gear, as well as Boeing “dirt boxes” and dozens of more obscure devices that can be mounted on vehicles, drones, and piloted aircraft. Some are designed to be used at static locations, while others can be discreetly carried by an individual. They have names like Cyberhawk, Yellowstone, Blackfin, Maximus, Cyclone, and Spartacus. Within the catalogue, the NSA is listed as the vendor of one device, while another was developed for use by the CIA, and another was developed for a special forces requirement. Nearly a third of the entries focus on equipment that seems to have never been described in public before.

The Intercept obtained the catalogue from a source within the intelligence community concerned about the militarization of domestic law enforcement. (The original is here.)

A few of the devices can house a “target list” of as many as 10,000 unique phone identifiers. Most can be used to geolocate people, but the documents indicate that some have more advanced capabilities, like eavesdropping on calls and spying on SMS messages. Two systems, apparently designed for use on captured phones, are touted as having the ability to extract media files, address books, and notes, and one can retrieve deleted text messages.

Above all, the catalogue represents a trove of details on surveillance devices developed for military and intelligence purposes but increasingly used by law enforcement agencies to spy on people and convict them of crimes. The mass shooting earlier this month in San Bernardino, California, which President Barack Obama has called “an act of terrorism,” prompted calls for state and local police forces to beef up their counterterrorism capabilities, a process that has historically involved adapting military technologies to civilian use. Meanwhile, civil liberties advocates and others are increasingly alarmed about how cellphone surveillance devices are used domestically and have called for a more open and informed debate about the trade-off between security and privacy — despite a virtual blackout by the federal government on any information about the specific capabilities of the gear.

“We’ve seen a trend in the years since 9/11 to bring sophisticated surveillance technologies that were originally designed for military use — like Stingrays or drones or biometrics — back home to the United States,” said Jennifer Lynch, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has waged a legal battle challenging the use of cellphone surveillance devices domestically. “But using these technologies for domestic law enforcement purposes raises a host of issues that are different from a military context.”

MANY OF THE DEVICES in the catalogue, including the Stingrays and dirt boxes, are cell-site simulators, which operate by mimicking the towers of major telecom companies like Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile. When someone’s phone connects to the spoofed network, it transmits a unique identification code and, through the characteristics of its radio signals when they reach the receiver, information about the phone’s location. There are also indications that cell-site simulators may be able to monitor calls and text messages.

In the catalogue, each device is listed with guidelines about how its use must be approved; the answer is usually via the “Ground Force Commander” or under one of two titles in the U.S. code governing military and intelligence operations, including covert action.

But domestically the devices have been used in a way that violates the constitutional rights of citizens, including the Fourth Amendment prohibition on illegal search and seizure, critics like Lynch say. They have regularly been used without warrants, or with warrants that critics call overly broad. Judges and civil liberties groups alike have complained that the devices are used without full disclosure of how they work, even within court proceedings.

“Every time police drive the streets with a Stingray, these dragnet devices can identify and locate dozens or hundreds of innocent bystanders’ phones,” said Nathan Wessler, a staff attorney with the Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The controversy around cellphone surveillance illustrates the friction that comes with redeploying military combat gear into civilian life. The U.S. government has been using cell-site simulators for at least 20 years, but their use by local law enforcement is a more recent development.

The archetypical cell-site simulator, the Stingray, was trademarked by Harris Corp. in 2003 and initially used by the military, intelligence agencies, and federal law enforcement. Another company, Digital Receiver Technology, now owned by Boeing, developed dirt boxes — more powerful cell-site simulators — which gained favor among the NSA, CIA, and U.S. military as good tools for hunting down suspected terrorists. The devices can reportedly track more than 200 phones over a wider range than the Stingray.

Amid the war on terror, companies selling cell-site simulators to the federal government thrived. In addition to large corporations like Boeing and Harris, which clocked more than $2.6 billion in federal contracts last year, the catalogue obtained by The Intercept includes products from little-known outfits like Nevada-based Ventis, which appears to have been dissolved, and SR Technologies of Davie, Florida, which has a website that warns: “Due to the sensitive nature of this business, we require that all visitors be registered before accessing further information.” (The catalogue obtained by The Intercept is not dated, but includes information about an event that occurred in 2012.)

The U.S. government eventually used cell-site simulators to target people for assassination in drone strikes, The Intercept has reported. But the CIA helped use the technology at home, too. For more than a decade, the agency worked with the U.S. Marshals Service to deploy planes with dirt boxes attached to track mobile phones across the U.S., the Wall Street Journal revealed.

After being used by federal agencies for years, cellular surveillance devices began to make their way into the arsenals of a small number of local police agencies. By 2007, Harris sought a license from the Federal Communications Commission to widely sell its devices to local law enforcement, and police flooded the FCC with letters of support. “The text of every letter was the same. The only difference was the law enforcement logo at the top,” said Chris Soghoian, the principal technologist at the ACLU, who obtained copies of the letters from the FCC through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The lobbying campaign was a success. Today nearly 60 law enforcement agencies in 23 states are known to possess a Stingray or some form of cell-site simulator, though experts believe that number likely underrepresents the real total. In some jurisdictions, police use cell-site simulators regularly. The Baltimore Police Department, for example, has used Stingrays more than 4,300 times since 2007.

Police often cite the war on terror in acquiring such systems. Michigan State Police claimed their Stingrays would “allow the State to track the physical location of a suspected terrorist,” although the ACLU later found that in 128 uses of the devices last year, none were related to terrorism. In Tacoma, Washington, police claimed Stingrays could prevent attacks using improvised explosive devices — the roadside bombs that plagued soldiers in Iraq. “I am not aware of any case in which a police agency has used a cell-site simulator to find a terrorist,” said Lynch. Instead, “law enforcement agencies have been using cell-site simulators to solve even the most minor domestic crimes.”

The Intercept is not publishing information on devices in the catalogue where the disclosure is not relevant to the debate over the extent of domestic surveillance.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment for this article. The FBI, NSA, and U.S. military did not offer any comment after acknowledging The Intercept’s written requests. The Department of Justice “uses technology in a manner that is consistent with the requirements and protections of the Constitution, including the Fourth Amendment, and applicable statutory authorities,” said Marc Raimondi, a Justice Department spokesperson who, for six years prior to working for the DOJ, worked for Harris Corp., the manufacturer of the Stingray.

WHILE INTEREST FROM local cops helped fuel the spread of cell-site simulators, funding from the federal government also played a role, incentivizing municipalities to buy more of the technology. In the years since 9/11, the U.S. has expanded its funding to provide military hardware to state and local law enforcement agencies via grants awarded by the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department. There’s been a similar pattern with Stingray-like devices.

“The same grant programs that paid for local law enforcement agencies across the country to buy armored personnel carriers and drones have paid for Stingrays,” said Soghoian. “Like drones, license plate readers, and biometric scanners, the Stingrays are yet another surveillance technology created by defense contractors for the military, and after years of use in war zones, it eventually trickles down to local and state agencies, paid for with DOJ and DHS money.”

In 2013, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement reported the purchase of two HEATR long-range surveillance devices as well as $3 million worth of Stingray devices since 2008. In California, Alameda County and police departments in Oakland and Fremont are using $180,000 in Homeland Security grant money to buy Harris’ Hailstorm cell-site simulator and the hand-held Thoracic surveillance device, made by Maryland security and intelligence company Keyw. As part of Project Archangel, which is described in government contract documents as a “border radio intercept program,” the Drug Enforcement Administration has contracted with Digital Receiver Technology for over $1 million in DRT surveillance box equipment. The Department of the Interior contracted with Keyw for more than half a million dollars of “reduced signature cellular precision geolocation.”

Information on such purchases, like so much about cell-site simulators, has trickled out through freedom of information requests and public records. The capabilities of the devices are kept under lock and key — a secrecy that hearkens back to their military origins. When state or local police purchase the cell-site simulators, they are routinely required to sign non-disclosure agreements with the FBI that they may not reveal the “existence of and the capabilities provided by” the surveillance devices, or share “any information” about the equipment with the public.

Indeed, while several of the devices in the military catalogue obtained by The Intercept are actively deployed by federal and local law enforcement agencies, according to public records, judges have struggled to obtain details of how they work. Other products in the secret catalogue have never been publicly acknowledged and any use by state, local, and federal agencies inside the U.S. is, therefore, difficult to challenge.

“It can take decades for the public to learn what our police departments are doing, by which point constitutional violations may be widespread,” Wessler said. “By showing what new surveillance capabilities are coming down the pike, these documents will help lawmakers, judges, and the public know what to look out for as police departments seek ever-more powerful electronic surveillance tools.”

Sometimes it’s not even clear how much police are spending on Stingray-like devices because they are bought with proceeds from assets seized under federal civil forfeiture law, in drug busts and other operations. Illinois, Michigan, and Maryland police forces have all used asset forfeiture funds to pay for Stingray-type equipment.

“The full extent of the secrecy surrounding cell-site simulators is completely unjustified and unlawful,” said EFF’s Lynch. “No police officer or detective should be allowed to withhold information from a court or criminal defendant about how the officer conducted an investigation.”

JUDGES HAVE BEEN among the foremost advocates for ending the secrecy around cell-site simulators, including by pushing back on warrant requests. At times, police have attempted to hide their use of Stingrays in criminal cases, prompting at least one judge to throw out evidence obtained by the device. In 2012, a U.S. magistrate judge in Texas rejected an application by the Drug Enforcement Administration to use a cell-site simulator in an operation, saying that the agency had failed to explain “what the government would do with” the data collected from innocent people.

Law enforcement has responded with some limited forms of transparency. In September, the Justice Department issued new guidelines for the use of Stingrays and similar devices, including that federal law enforcement agencies using them must obtain a warrant based on probable cause and must delete any data intercepted from individuals not under investigation.

Contained within the guidelines, however, is a clause stipulating vague “exceptional circumstances” under which agents could be exempt from the requirement to get a probable cause warrant.

“Cell-site simulator technology has been instrumental in aiding law enforcement in a broad array of investigations, including kidnappings, fugitive investigations, and complicated narcotics cases,” said Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates.

Meanwhile, parallel guidelines issued by the Department of Homeland Security in October do not require warrants for operations on the U.S. border, nor do the warrant requirements apply to state and local officials who purchased their Stingrays through grants from the federal government, such as those in Wisconsin, Maryland, and Florida.

The ACLU, EFF, and several prominent members of Congress have said the federal government’s exceptions are too broad and leave the door open for abuses.

“Because cell-site simulators can collect so much information from innocent people, a simple warrant for their use is not enough,” said Lynch, the EFF attorney. “Police officers should be required to limit their use of the device to a short and defined period of time. Officers also need to be clear in the probable cause affidavit supporting the warrant about the device’s capabilities.”

In November, a federal judge in Illinois published a legal memorandum about the government’s application to use a cell-tower spoofing technology in a drug-trafficking investigation. In his memo, Judge Iain Johnston sharply criticized the secrecy surrounding Stingrays and other surveillance devices, suggesting that it made weighing the constitutional implications of their use extremely difficult. “A cell-site simulator is simply too powerful of a device to be used and the information captured by it too vast to allow its use without specific authorization from a fully informed court,” he wrote.

He added that Harris Corp. “is extremely protective about information regarding its device. In fact, Harris is so protective that it has been widely reported that prosecutors are negotiating plea deals far below what they could obtain so as to not disclose cell-site simulator information. … So where is one, including a federal judge, able to learn about cell-site simulators? A judge can ask a requesting Assistant United States Attorney or a federal agent, but they are tight-lipped about the device, too.”

The ACLU and EFF believe that the public has a right to review the types of devices being used to encourage an informed debate on the potentially far-reaching implications of the technology. The catalogue obtained by The Intercept, said Wessler, “fills an important gap in our knowledge, but it is incumbent on law enforcement agencies to proactively disclose information about what surveillance equipment they use and what steps they take to protect Fourth Amendment privacy rights.”

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Privacy hawks turn to White House in encryption fight

December 14, 2015

Privacy advocates are leaning on the White House to counter lawmakers’ renewed efforts to pass encryption-piercing legislation in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif.

Despite a lack of direct evidence the technology played a role in either incident, lawmakers continue to use both deadly plots to promote a bill that would force companies to decrypt data upon request.

The tactic has left technologists and privacy advocates frustrated, even outraged.

In a meeting with privacy and civil liberties groups on Thursday, the Obama administration said it was preparing to issue an updated stance on encryption policy in the coming weeks, giving the pro-encryption community hope it might have a new ally in its fight.

“I’m very hopeful and the White House has been very receptive,” said Kevin Bankston, director of New America’s Open Technology Institute, who attended the sit-down with top White House cybersecurity and technology officials.

The White House is the one force in government that digital rights advocates believe has the power to shut down the what they see as damaging and distracting battles over a technology they say is necessary and inevitable.

“My concern is we’re going to be arguing this every few years unless there’s a definitive statement from the White House,” Bankston said.

Since the deadly attacks, major Silicon Valley players such as Apple and Google have been under intense pressure from Congress and law enforcement to allow investigators some form of guaranteed access to encrypted data.

As a result, privacy advocates say several types of useful encryption have become vilified with little reason. 

“I’m frustrated by this cynical, opportunistic playbook where the intelligence community sits poised to take advantage of whatever tragedy comes along,” Bankston said, “even if the facts on the ground have nothing to do with it.”

On Capitol Hill this week, FBI Director James Comey portrayed claims that companies cannot crack their own encrypted data, even under court order, as a business decision, not a technological imperative. 

Among them, Apple argues the company itself is incapable of getting at the encrypted data on its latest operating system.

“There are plenty of companies today that provide secure services to their customers and still comply with court orders,” Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. “This is not a technical issue, it is a business model question.”

Lawmakers have picked up on this message, using it to lambast Silicon Valley.

“Here’s my message to Silicon Valley: Change your business model tomorrow,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who is running for president, said Wednesday on Fox News.

Joe Hall, chief technologist with the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), which was also represented at the White House meeting, called this language “really infuriating.”

“What that shows is a misunderstanding of why one would choose to secure either a given communication or a device,” he added.

Providing “easy-to-use, mass market cybersecurity tools” keeps American tech firms competitive in the global marketplace and help secure broad swaths of data from rapidly expanding cyber crime syndicates and overseas cyber spies, Hall said.

Congress has long “been on the warpath,” he added, to get companies and individuals to adopt this type of secure technology. 

Yet suddenly, increasingly common forms of securing data and messages, such as end-to-end encryption and full-disk encryption, are under attack.

With end-to-end encryption, a digital message — an email, or iMessage, for instance — is only visible to the sender and receiver. Full-disk encryption allows people to lock down all information on a hard drive. 

During his Wednesday testimony, Comey told lawmakers that one of the shooters in the Garland, Texas, attack on a contest to draw a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed exchanged 109 of encrypted messages with overseas terrorists.

“We have no idea what he said, because those messages were encrypted,” he said.

Investigators have not produced similar examples for the suspects in Paris and San Bernardino, although ABC News reported the couple behind the San Bernardino shootings had digital devices with “some form of encryption,” citing two unnamed U.S. officials.

Still, these details have fueled those calling for a policy that would ensure government access to secured data.

Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) have vowed to offer legislation that would compel companies to comply with court orders seeking encrypted messages. 

“I think this world is really changing in terms of people wanting the protection and wanting law enforcement, if there is conspiracy going on over the Internet, that that encryption ought to be able to be pierced,” Feinstein said Wednesday.

But technologists and civil society groups say such a bill would essentially amount to a ban on manufacturing or selling devices with features such as end-to-end or full-disk encryption.

The result, they insist, would be a world in which everyday people are more vulnerable to data breaches and dissidents are more exposed to repressive government spies. 

In response, these encryption advocates have turned their hopes to the White House.

“The White House has to look at those comments and what may result from where the senators are headed and start to take a proactive stance in regards to that,” said Amie Stepanovich, U.S. policy manager at digital rights advocate Access, who attended Thursday’s White House meeting. 

“We need somebody in a position of power to take leadership on this issue,” she added.

Privacy hawks have seen positive movement from the White House over the past year. 

For months, the administration was investigating legislative options and technological mandates that would allow law enforcement its desired access to data on encrypted devices. Ultimately, the White House decided to back away, for the time being, from any mandate.

Following Thursday’s meeting, attendees praised the administration’s ongoing attention to the issue.

“They really wanted to listen to our opinions and the research that we were able to bring in,” Stepanovich said.

But the White House can’t drag its feet forever, privacy advocates agreed. 

They see the administration’s current encryption stance as “no stance.” The position is allowing Congress and law enforcement to continue down potentially destructive paths that would undermine security, encryption advocates said.

A full-throated endorsement of robust encryption methods, such as end-to-end encryption and full-disk encryption, can cut off that path, they said.

“It could be a game-changer,” Bankston said. “I think it would help us put to bed this debate that’s been raging for well over a year.”

“We can move on and start having a more productive conversation about how law enforcement and the tech community can adapt to a world where encryption is common,” he added.

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