Three Republican senators introduced a bill to end “warrant-proof” encryption on June 23. It invokes national security as a pretext for requiring device manufacturers and service providers to assist law enforcement by providing access to encrypted data.
Pedophiles & national security
The Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act is sponsored by Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). According to GovTrack, all three senators score high on the conservativeness scale, with Blackburn receiving a perfect 1.00.
Graham is also one of the sponsors of the EARN IT Act, which many privacy advocates heavily criticized for what they perceived as encroaching on personal freedoms under the guise of protecting children from sexual abuse.
It is not clear why Graham and his colleagues felt the need to propose a bill that, on the surface, seems to have similar goals to the EARN IT Act — stripping the individuals of the right to use privacy-preserving technology while forcing technology companies to become even more responsive to the state’s whims. Perhaps the idea is that at least one of the cards that the bill plays — national security or child welfare — will get the job done.
End to ‘warrant-proof’ encryption
The press release says that the proposed legislation “would bring an end to warrant-proof encryption in devices, platforms, and systems,” a debate that has raged for years. Also, it stresses that companies would be required to cooperate with the authorities only after a warrant is issued by the court:
“The bill would require service providers and device manufacturers to provide assistance to law enforcement when access to encrypted devices or data is necessary — but only after a court issues a warrant, based on probable cause that a crime has occurred, authorizing law enforcement to search and seize the data.”
If this bill ever gets passed, the crypto industry might be especially affected. Cryptographic algorithms are at the core of Bitcoin (BTC) and other cryptocurrencies. On the other hand, the decentralized nature of many projects in this space, may make the industry better prepared.
Ava & Cardano would not yield
Cornell University professor and Ava co-founder Emin Gün Sirer, answering whether Ava would implement a backdoor for government access, said “Absolutely not!” He added that if the bill is passed and law enforcement comes knocking on the door, he would sooner move his project overseas than succumb to pressure. Sirer believes that such lawmaking initiatives hamper national security rather than fostering it:
“Countless experts have made it clear, time and time again, that these ideas are misguided: these backdoors represent potential vulnerabilities, and they hate American companies and American competitiveness. At the same time, they force the use of technologies, such as VPNs, that cause communication that poses a national security threat in aggregate to move overseas.”
He further noted that privacy-preserving technology is the essence of blockchain:
“Emerging technologies, such as blockchains, provide strong privacy guarantees, built into their very fabric. At the forefront of these systems, Ava will reject every effort to build abuse-prone backdoors into its software.”
“No. I will stop working on these systems if legally forced to do so”.
Roger Ver expressed skepticism that political laws have the power to solve what essentially is a math problem:
“No amount of violence can solve a math problem. And I think that’s a great way of looking at it. Right. So politicians can pass all the bills they want, but it doesn’t change the way math works. So no amount of political law making or violence can solve a math problem”
Meanwhile, attorney general William P. Barr issued a statement strongly supporting the act, pointing out that warrant-proof encryption allows “criminals to operate with impunity,” and that, given the COVID-19 lockdown, it could not be timelier:
“The danger is particularly great for children who are targeted online for sexual exploitation, especially during this time of coronavirus lockdowns. Survivors of child sexual abuse and their families have pleaded with technology companies to do more to prevent predators from exploiting their platforms to harm children. We cannot allow these companies to elevate their profits and the privacy rights of these abusers over the safety and security of children.”
The likelihood of this bill passing will be greatly impacted by November elections.