Former NSA Directors Coming Out Strongly *Against* Backdooring Encryption
from the didn't see that coming dept
Earlier this summer, we were taken a bit by surprise when both former NSA/CIA boss Michael Hayden, along with former DHS boss Michael Chertoff, came out fairly strongly against backdooring encryption at a time when their counterparts still in the government seemed to be leaning in the other direction and have been pushing proposals to mandate backdoors. And it appears they’re not backing down. Hayden has now doubled down with further statements against backdooring encryption, according to Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai at Vice’s Motherboard.
Michael Hayden, the former head of the US top spy agencies, the CIA, and the NSA, thinks the US government should stop railing against encryption and should support strong crypto rather than asking for backdoors.
The US is “better served by stronger encryption, rather than baking in weaker encryption,” he said during a panel on Tuesday.
Later, he told Lorenzo that part of his thinking is that the intelligence community doesn’t need such backdoors since it has other ways of getting that info:
“In retrospect, we mastered the problem we created by the lack of the Clipper Chip,” he said. “We were able to do a whole bunch of other things. Some of the other things were metadata, and bulk collection and so on.”
Hayden is being a bit snarky there. He knows that privacy advocates will take his words about backdooring encryption and celebrate them, so he’s using it at the same time to argue in favor of the other problematic programs — programs that Hayden is most closely associated with involving mass surveillance. He’s also being disingenuous. The metadata and mass surveillance efforts generally give you access to a different kind of information. What Hayden leaves out, of course, is the real reason why backdoors usually aren’t that important: because there are almost always ways to hack into encrypted data, though that also raises serious questions.
Meanwhile, another former NSA director, Mike McConnell, has joined with the other two Michaels in arguing against backdoors. This according to Kaveh Waddell at the National Journal:
“Don’t get in the way of progress,” McConnell said Thursday at a panel during an encryption summit hosted by The Washington Post. “Don’t get in the way of innovation and creativity, because this is going to happen. Somebody’s going to provide this encryption.”
McConnell’s position is a complete departure from the perspective he represented in government, a shift he has publicly acknowledged. When he ran the National Security Agency in the 1990s, McConnell was a vocal supporter of the Clipper Chip, a device developed by the NSA that allowed the government to decrypt electronic communications.
Of course, what’s mostly left out of this discussion is that both McConnell and Hayden are now in the private sector — Hayden at the Chertoff Group with Michael Chertoff, and McConnell at defense contracting giant (and former Ed Snowden employer) Booz Allen Hamilton — where both have economic reasons for supporting actual stronger security, rather than undermining such security. Either way, in this debate, it seems that those pushing for backdooring encryption are increasingly being marginalized entirely. Even their normally faithful supporters have moved on into the world of reality, where backdooring encryption only leads to trouble.