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Thursday, 03 May 2018 08:56

Tech coalition slams bid for encrytpion backdoors

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A coalition of big technology firms has, for a second time in recent months, called for strong encryption not to be tampered with, and criticised efforts by law enforcement agencies to create backdoors.

The Reform Government Surveillance group, formed in 2014 soon after the revelations of NSA surveillance by whistleblower Edward Snowden, said in a statement: "We have consistently raised concerns about proposals that would undermine encryption of devices and services by requiring so-called 'exceptional access' for law enforcement.

"Recent reports have described new proposals to engineer vulnerabilities into devices and services – but they appear to suffer from the same technical and design concerns that security researchers have identified for years. Weakening the security and privacy that encryption helps provide is not the answer."

The report referred to was an interview with former Microsoft employee Ray Ozzie in which he claimed to have found a way out for governments to bypass strong encryption without any backdoors.

But his claims were panned by cryptographers and researchers alike, with one, Matthew Green, a cryptographer and professor at Johns Hopkins University, pointing out that Ozzie's scheme was "effectively a key escrow system for encrypted phones".

The RGS group includes Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, Dropbox, Twitter, LinkedIn, Oath: (the parent company of Verizon and Yahoo!) and Snap.

Some of these companies are said to have co-operated with the NSA in leaking consumer data, claims which they denied even though evidence was provided by Snowden to prove they had been willing partners.

This is the second time in a fortnight that the RGS has spoken up about encryption. On 24 April, the group issued a statement in which it acknowledged "that government leaders around the world are responsible for protecting the safety and security of their citizens, and that they increasingly seek to access electronic communications and data in their investigations".

But it added: "However, RGS respectfully disagrees with calls for legislation or regulations that would require companies to intentionally build security vulnerabilities into their products and services."

Governments around the world, including in Australia, have been calling for backdoors into encryption in order to tackle what are claimed to be unsolvable crimes.

In some cases, the claims of bodies like the FBI, that they could not gain access to devices in order to make progress in investigations, have been questioned and characterised as being somewhat overblown.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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