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Backdoor battle puts encrypted phone vendors in untenable position

Macate, a manufacturer of secure smartphones, is finding itself caught smack dab in the middle of the battle raging between the federal forces looking to require backdoors on encrypted devices and those opposing that idea.

Bringing the issue to the forefront for Macate is the company is in Las Vegas at International CES, a massive technology trade show, exhibiting the company's GATCA Elite luxury cyberphone. The phone includes a host of security features, including AES 512 encryption, that the company said will be all but useless if the government gets its way and insists that a backdoor be included in its products.

“We are in a very weird position. We spent the last several years figuring out every way possible to protect the phone and the government wants us to leave what amounts to a key under the mat in the back of the house,” said Rudo Boothe, director of software and systems architecture for Macate.

Boothe insisted that any opening left in their system will be discovered by the bad guys and even if cybercriminals are stymied by the GATCA's technology there is no guarantee they won't be able to obtain access through another source. Namely, the U.S. government.

“It makes me nervous to give away our secrets to an organization that gets hacked. If they could guarantee it wouldn't, that would be one thing, but they can't,” Boothe said.

While Boothe understood the need to protect Americans from outside threats, he said the nation's various intelligence networks will have to utilize human assets to check on the bad guys instead of relying on technology.

“The feds will have to figure something else out,” he said.

Macate has a long list of supporters that includes most major manufacturers and privacy advocacy groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Arrayed on the other side are most law enforcement and governmental agencies that believe a backdoor is needed to help fight crime and terrorism.

A similar argument is taking place overseas with the Dutch government coming out yesterday in favor of encryption, while the U.K. is leaning toward the U.S. position.

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