Tom Olzak

Is Encryption a Right?

In Access Controls, Application Security, Encryption, Government on July 8, 2015 at 04:00

With governments beginning to make noise again about weakening encryption, several security professionals have come out against any moves to do this.  But does government have the right to take away our right to privacy?

Absolute privacy can be a national security issue.  But so is weakening business and critical infrastructure security in the name of protecting society.  The question I’ve been asking myself is whether strong encryption is a right: a right no government has the “right” to take from us.

In the U.S., our government has repeatedly resisted demands to limit the strength of encryption via things like backdoors and weak algorithms.  In the 1990’s, when these issues were dealt with, many believed the “crypto wars” were over.

“But they may not have realized that we would be on the brink of a similar battle over the right to use strong encryption some 15 years later. That’s why the key takeaway from the conflict is that weakening or undermining encryption is bad for the U.S. economy, Internet security, and civil liberties—and we’d be far better off if we remembered why the Crypto Wars turned out they way they did, rather than repeating the mistakes of the past” (Danielle Kehl, 2015).

It’s time to resolve this.  Congress and the People need to decide whether absolute privacy is a right in view of the internal and external threats we face as individuals, as organizations, and as a nation.  When deciding, we should keep in mind the following:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized” (4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution).

Whatever we decide, a balance must be struck between security and our right to manage our lives as we see fit without interference by government.  The only exception is when living as we choose causes harm to others.

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