Cracking Encryption will Destroy an Important American Industry
The COVID-19 crisis has made businesses and consumers around the world even more reliant on the internet to stay connected. In doing so, it has created an unprecedented opportunity for hackers and hostile nations to steal invaluable information. The American tech industry provides some of the most robust online security in the form of end-to-end encryption. At a time when the world increasingly needs internet security, cracking encryption would extinguish this innovative corner of the American tech industry while stripping consumers and businesses of their privacy.
End-to-end encryption is a growing form of security which makes online information available only to the sender and receiver. By preventing data or messages from being intercepted, encryption is often used for routine online bank transactions, messaging apps, or video calls. American tech companies currently provide a wide array of encryption services and social media companies are increasingly moving towards encrypting messages sent on their platforms.
The ability of citizens and businesses to keep their communications private has come under criticism from law enforcement and national security advocates. While the majority of people who use encrypted services are law abiding, criminals and terrorists have also abused the privacy it affords. Advocates have called on private tech companies to develop ‘master keys’ or backdoors in their software, so that encrypted data can be accessed as part of criminal investigations.
The problem with cracking encryption services is that it jeopardizes consumer and business privacy, while destroying an important innovation within America’s tech industry. Once encrypted communication is riddled with holes, there are no safeguards to prevent nefarious actors from exploiting them. If domestic law enforcement cannot force every tech company around the world to crack their own encryption, American encryption providers would be relegated to the second tier. In the internet security marketplace, slightly secure isn’t a convincing sales pitch.
Particularly when more and more critical communication is being relegated to the internet due to COVID-19, there is an increasing domestic and international need for internet security. The FBI has warned that American researchers looking for a COVID-19 vaccine have come under immense attack from Chinese hackers. Similarly, following the Russian election interference fiasco in 2016, it is expected that campaigns across the country will be targeted ahead of the November election. Coupled with a widespread effort to move in-person transactions online, COVID-19 makes internet security and private online communication vital.
In addition to stripping American consumers and businesses of their privacy, eroding the strength of encryption would be a major set-back for civil society and American allies around the world. Journalists, dissidents, and NGO workers all rely on encryption to keep their information private from hostile state and non-state actors. Similarly, just like American officials at home, governments that are friendly to the United States have also come under unprecedented cyberattack. Curtailing privacy at home in the United States will have a ripple effect around the world for friends and allies who share American values.
Encryption is not only a vibrant corner of the American tech industry — it also offers consumers, business, and researchers vital online security. Cracking end-to-end encryption risks exposing law abiding citizens around the world to a huge risk of hacking, while hampering domestic tech companies. At a time when encryption makes social distancing feasible, consumers and businesses need more — not less — security online.
Oliver McPherson-Smith writes for the American Consumer Institute, a nonprofit educational and research organization. For more information about the Institute, visit www.TheAmericanConsumer.Org or follow us on Twitter @ConsumerPal.