An elite group of code makers and code breakers is taking American and British intelligence and law enforcement agencies to task in a new paper that evaluates government proposals to maintain special access to encrypted digital communications.
On Tuesday, the group — 13 of the world’s pre-eminent cryptographers, computer scientists and security specialists — will release the paper, which concludes there is no viable technical solution that would allow the American and British governments to gain “exceptional access” to encrypted communications without putting the world’s most confidential data and critical infrastructure in danger.
The report is being released a day before James B. Comey Jr., the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Sally Quillian Yates, the deputy attorney general at the Justice Department, are scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the concerns that they and other government agencies have about “going dark” — the fear that new encryption technologies will prevent them from monitoring the communications of kidnappers, terrorists and other adversaries.
The authors of the report said such fears did not justify putting the world’s digital communications at risk. Given the inherent vulnerabilities of the Internet, they argued, reducing encryption is not an option. Handing governments a key to encrypted communications would also require an extraordinary degree of trust. With government agency breaches now the norm — most recently at the United States Office of Personnel Management, the State Department and the White House — the security specialists said authorities cannot be trusted to keep such keys safe from hackers and criminals. They added that if the United States and Britain mandated backdoor keys to communications, it would spur China and other governments in foreign markets to do the same.