US AG rips Silicon Valley tech firms, says encryption makes crime easier to hide

The US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein recently gave a speech criticizing Silicon Valley tech companies for not working with the US government on encryption.

5 reasons encryption backdoors are a bad idea

At a US Naval Academy speech on Tuesday, deputy US attorney general Rod Rosenstein criticized American tech companies' stance on data encryption, and their work with the American government on issues involving private data. In the speech, Rosenstein said that US tech giants were more willing to accommodate foreign government demands than those made by the US government.

In his speech, Rosenstein cited one of the famous instances of the US government warring with a major tech company over encryption, which occurred when Apple refused to decrypt the iPhone used by a shooter in San Bernardino, CA. He said that negotiations like this were "unlikely to work," as companies will agree to meet and discuss the issue, but will remain critical of the government's request.

The reason for the disconnect, Rosenstein said, is that the two entities differ in their end goals. The tech companies are interested in "selling products and making money," while the US government is interested in "preventing crime and saving lives," he said.

SEE: Encryption Policy Template (Tech Pro Research)

Rosenstein then went further, claiming that tech giants that utilize encryption are creating an environment where crime can go undetected in the future.

"Our society has never had a system where evidence of criminal wrongdoing was totally impervious to detection, especially when officers obtain a court-authorized warrant," Rosenstein said in the speech. "But that is the world that technology companies are creating."

While Rosenstein said that the government doesn't want to undermine encryption, he did specifically call out the use of "warrant-proof" encryption, and stated that "there has never been a right to absolute privacy." He also claimed that, by using encryption, many tech companies were trying to "exempt themselves from complying with court orders."

Instead, Rosenstein said that companies should pursue what he called "responsible encryption," which would grant access to law enforcement. While Rosenstein insists that this wouldn't be a considered a back door, other experts have said that it is a back door with a different name.

Encryption has become a table-stakes issues for everything from social media apps to mobile messaging. But Rosenstein said that there "is no constitutional right to sell warrant-proof encryption." As the conversations around this issue continue to heat up, businesses must stay abreast of the latest developments so they are providing the features that users want, while remaining in the bounds of the law.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. US attorney general Rod Rosenstein recently said in a speech that US tech companies are more willing to work with foreign governments on encryption issues than they are with the US.
  2. Rosenstein called for "responsible encryption," but experts said that is the same thing as back door access for law enforcement.
  3. The encryption debate will continue to heat up, and companies should remain vigilant of the news so they can meet customer needs, while staying in the bounds of the law.

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Image: iStockphoto/grandeduc