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Securing the Internet Commons

Ever since Edward Snowden’s revelations about the US National Security Agency’s spying around the world, a debate has raged about the balance between privacy and national security. Should companies be able to encrypt their users’ messages so securely that no one – including governments – can get in?

WASHINGTON, DC – Ever since Edward Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Agency’s spying on citizens and leaders around the world, a debate has raged in the United States about the proper balance between national security and individual privacy and liberty. Most recently that debate has focused on encryption: whether technology companies should be able to develop programs that encrypt their users’ messages so securely that no one but their intended recipients – not even governments – can read them. It is a debate to which governments and citizens everywhere should pay attention.

Not surprisingly, the US government’s national security officials oppose full encryption by American technology companies, arguing that the country will be less safe if the proper authorities have no “backdoor” – a piece of code that lets them in. Software engineers call backdoors “vulnerabilities,” deliberate efforts to weaken security. They regard a request for backdoors the same way an automobile manufacturer would view a request for a defective engine.

A large coalition of technology companies and civil-society organizations recently sent a letter to President Barack Obama arguing against backdoors. In addition to “undermining every American’s cyber security and the nation’s economic security,” the signers argued, “introducing new vulnerabilities to weaken encrypted products in the US would also undermine human rights and information security around the globe.”

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