Obama administration wants public input on encryption debate


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The Obama administration is soliciting the public’s input on encryption after a petition on the White House’s website met the threshold for a response.

In a response, U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer Ed Felten and White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Michael Daniel write that administration officials will be meeting with the petition’s authors in the next week.

The initial petition, which was launched in September, called for the government to endorse strong encryption and refrain from pressuring companies to “keep and allow government access to our data, mandate implementation of vulnerabilities or backdoors into products, or have disproportionate access to the keys to private data.”

In the response, Felten and Daniel write that a conversation surrounding encryption is “critical” for “national security, public health and safety, economic competitiveness, privacy, cybersecurity and human rights.”

“This conversation about encryption is also part of a broader conversation about what we, as a nation, can do to fight terrorism as it evolves online,” the response reads. “American technologists have a unique perspective that makes them essential in finding new ways to combat it. They are the best and most creative in the world, and we need them to bring their expertise, innovation, and creativity to bear against the threat of terrorism.”

Responding to Felten and Daniel’s comments, the petition’s creator, Electronic Frontier Foundation Activism Director Rainey Reitman, said some of the meetings already occurred without EFF being involved. The White House declined to tell FedScoop who attended the meetings.

Encryption has been a hot topic in the wake of recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, with law enforcement agencies saying encrypted communications are being used by terror groups around the world. President Barack Obama said Sunday during an address to the nation that he will “urge high-tech and law enforcement leaders to make it harder for terrorists to use technology to escape from justice.”

Earlier Thursday, FBI Director James Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee that tech companies need to find a way to break encrypted communications when it’s a matter of public safety. He used the example of a shooting in Garland, Texas, where an attacker opened fire at an anti-Prophet Muhammad event. That person, according to Comey, traded encrypted communications with “an overseas terrorists” more than 100 times.

Submit comments to the White House via this online form.

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encryption, Government IT News, Michael Daniel, White House