The government can't stop the rise of encryption tech
"I don't know if trying to put a genie back in the bottle is necessarily leadership that I would ascribe to," Joanie Myers, a cybersecurity expert and cofounder of Strategic Link Partners, said. "I think the issue is that the United States government needs to use all of its powers and technology to defeat this enemy."
The genie Myers is referring to is encryption. While Clinton called on tech leaders to develop solutions to protect user privacy without using impenetrable encryption, that seems increasingly unlikely as technology companies implement it or flee from US shores.After the Edward Snowden disclosures showed the NSA was capturing data everywhere from user's email inboxes to Facebook chats and Skype calls, it's easy to see why.
"I think that most people who build these technologies have the best intentions and honestly believe that the product that they are building will bring more good into the world than bad," Anthony Pompliano, a former product manager for Facebook, said. "I think that they are generally correct in that thought process."
Encryption used to require a high level of technical understanding (though terrorist groups like Al Qaeda have been using encryption since at least 2007), but now a number of apps exist that allow anyone to hide online with just a few clicks.
This trend is not likely to stop anytime soon, even after the terrorist attack in Paris, France spurred new criticism of encryption from US officials. Some, like FBI Director James Comey, have called for a "backdoor." With a number of companies providing the technology based outside of the US, it's hard to see that happening.
"After the horrific Paris attacks, the press was filled with information relating use of encryption by terrorists, relaying many calls to ban it or introduce backdoors into it," Mounir Idrassi, a cryptography expert and CEO of Paris-based Idrix, the company behind the VeraCrypt encryption software, said in an email."Unfortunately, encryption software like VeraCrypt has been and will always be used by bad guys to hide their data and such events must not make us forget the importance of encryption in the protection of privacy and corporate assets."
Encryption has plenty of legitimate uses: It keeps data secure for companies, protects the work of journalists and activists, and even keeps military secrets safe from the bad guys. But like anything, it can be misused by bad actors.
"ISIS doesn't just use ProtonMail, they also use Twitter, mobile phones, and rental cars, so we couldn't possibly ban everything that ISIS uses without disrupting democracy and our way of life, and in effect achieving one of the prime objectives of terrorism," Dr. Andy Yen, the CEO of Proton Technologies, wrote in an email. Yen's company is behind ProtonMail, an easy-to-use encrypted email service based in Geneva, Switzerland.
While most people we spoke with were adamant that encryption was here to say, at least one offered something positive about the potential for Silicon Valley and the government to work together.
"I think that these companies have already thought enough about spam, abuse, reporting," former Facebooker Anthony Pompliano said. "If given the time, resources, mind share, and access to understand the problems at the highest levels of government, [they] could eventually come up with systems to curb some of this, while falling in line with their personal and company philosophies."