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NY Times Bits Update



Monday, May 9, 2016


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The New York Times

Monday, May 9, 2016

Daily Report
The Clash of Privacy, Legislation and Software | Digital encryption, with its mind-numbing mathematics, is hard to do. It’s almost as tough as the arguments on what to do with it.
As Cecilia Kang writes, the United States government is facing off with the American technology industry over a bill that would require tech companies to comply with court orders seeking access to people’s encrypted data. The two sides are engaged in heavy and vigorous behind-the-scenes lobbying.
On first pass, the government has a good point: In moments of grave danger, or to establish a chain of evidence, there are good reasons to think authorized warrants should not be limited by actions taken by companies.
But the companies have their own points: If they build software that can be cracked or opened, they are building flawed products that hackers know they can exploit.
Moreover, these are multinational companies that might have to grant the same secrets-reading powers to totalitarian states where they also do business. Whether the companies are giving up people’s privacy to foreign or American police, many of their top engineers might leave instead of abetting.
Turning to the general public for guidance will not make this easier. Some people are for absolute personal privacy, no matter whether you are a piano teacher or an ISIS recruiter. Others think the government should be able to see your every move — after all, if you aren’t doing anything wrong, what have you got to hide?
The great middle, however, doesn’t like ISIS, or living in a world where a police officer reads our love letters (or notes on organizing an antigovernment protest).
What seems to bother the government as much as the problems of cheap, plentiful and effective electronic secrecy is the new militancy companies are bringing to the issue.
It’s not just that Apple and Google are lobbying against this bill. In April, Microsoft suedthe Justice Department, challenging secrecy orders that keep Microsoft from telling people the lawmen have a warrant to see their email.
Meantime, software development is moving faster than lawmaking. Last month, Viber, a free communications app owned by Japan’s Rakuten, said it had put full encryption on every message. The app, which is popular internationally, was previously considered to have weak security. WhatsApp, owned by Facebook and used by one billion people globally, did the same, and published a white paper on just how good it is.
That’s another casualty of modern tech: It’s hard to control information when it’s hard to see national borders.
— Quentin Hardy
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., in New York in February. Last month, he met with lawmakers in Washington, telling them that encryption needed to be diminished during criminal investigations.

Police and Tech Giants Wrangle Over Encryption on Capitol Hill


Behind-the-scenes lobbying heightens in this next phase of a divide over digital security that erupted when Apple refused to help unlock an iPhone used in a mass shooting.

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