Last week, Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray chose to spend some of their time giving speeches demonizing encryption and calling for the creation of backdoors to allow the government access to encrypted data. You should not spend any of your time listening to them.
Don’t be mistaken; the threat to encryption remains high. Australia and the United Kingdom already have laws in place that can enable those governments to undermine encryption, while other countries may follow. And it’s definitely dangerous when senior U.S. law enforcement officials talk about encryption the way Barr and Wray did.
The reason to ignore these speeches is that DOJ and FBI have not proven themselves credible on this issue. Instead, they have a long track record of exaggeration and even false statements in support of their position. That should be a bar to convincing anyone—especially Congress—that government backdoors are a good idea.
Barr expressed confidence in the tech sector’s “ingenuity” to design a backdoor for law enforcement that will stand up to any unauthorized access, paying no mind to the broad technical and academic consensus in the field that this risk is unavoidable. As the prominent cryptographer and Johns Hopkins University computer science professor Matt Green pointed out on Twitter, the Attorney General made sweeping, impossible-to-support claims that digital security would be largely unaffected by introducing new backdoors. Although Barr paid the barest lip service to the benefits of encryption—two sentences in a 4,000 word speech—he ignored numerous ways encryption protects us all, including preserving not just digital but physical security for the most vulnerable users….