Compliance Management, Network Security

EFF: End-to-end encryption to deter overreach by Trump administration

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is expressing wariness at the prospects for increased surveillance activity and the curbing of privacy rights under a Trump administration.

The privacy rights watchdog group is advocating for the use of end-to-end encryption by default in all transactions as well as the deletion of logs. "You cannot be made to surrender data you do not have," Rainey Reitman, director of the EFF's activism team, said in an interview reported in Computerworld.

"We need to start securing our systems now," she explained. "If we wait until [Trump] starts putting overbroad government demands on tech companies, they won't have the time to clean up their logs and encrypt data."

Saying that Trump is "no friend to civil liberties," Reitman pointed out that the President-elect will soon be in a position to affect legislation and issue "executive orders that can be very detrimental to digital rights."

The EFF said it had evidence to substantiate its call to action, citing as an example Trump's support of the FBI's demand that Apple unlock the iPhone used in the shooting in San Bernardino.

Adding to the apprehension are a number of legislative measures to impose backdoors in encryption technologies to grant government agencies and law enforcement easier access to communications. While the measures have so far been tabled, Reitman said she believed discussions will only resurface. This "is one of the things to watch out for over the next few months," she said.

Reitman told SC Media on Thursday that the EFF has written up more details about its technical recommendations here and here.

As far as what enterprises, as well as average citizens, can do to best protect their privacy in communications, Reitman told SC Media: "This is a time to be increasing security of our digital lives. That means HTTPS on websites by default, end-to-end encryption of communications, and deleting unnecessary data trails." 

It's impossible to know what type of legislation may appear in the next year, she added. "I'm worried about bills and concepts that the digital rights movement has soundly defeated in the past returning. That could look like a data retention mandate, an effort to roll back the NSA surveillance reforms recently passed, or an attempt to mandate backdoors in our devices. Trump has also discussed opening up libel laws so that it would be easier to prosecute journalists. All of these things worry me," she said.

Certainly, encryption is a hot button topic for legislators and law enforcement. For example, on Thursday, a bipartisan Congressional working group tasked with examining the issue of encryption technology's impact on law enforcement issued a year-end report concluding that “Congress should not weaken this vital technology because doing so works against the national interest.” Rather, the way forward lies in helping law enforcement find new ways to adapt to a changing technological landscape, according to a statement sent to SC Media on Thursday from Morgan Reed, executive director at The App Association, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group representing 5,000 app companies and information technology firms in the mobile economy. 

Reed commended the "exhaustive investigation" that went into the year-end report from the bipartisan encryption working group. "The clear consensus they found is that strong encryption is critical to America's physical and economic security and any effort to weaken it would be ‘against the national interest,'" he wrote.

Reed added that rather than pursue dead-end proposals to create backdoors, his working group suggests Congress focus on proposals to foster cooperation between the technology industry and law enforcement. Provide law enforcement with the training and tools necessary to reduce the knowledge and capabilities gap, he said. "Encryption is critical to every American's security and the every state in America. It's heartening that the working group recognized this is not a tech vs. law enforcement issue, but an issue of making sure law enforcement is better prepared to do their jobs in the digital world.”

Get daily email updates

SC Media's daily must-read of the most current and pressing daily news

By clicking the Subscribe button below, you agree to SC Media Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy.