White House 'Responds' To Petition For Strong Encryption… By Asking For More Info From A Misspelled Ed Felten
from the say-what? dept
Earlier this year, the EFF’s Rainey Reitman set up the SaveCrypto.org petition, which tied directly into the White House’s We the People… petition site. The petition got the necessary 100,000 signatures to demand a response (though the White House isn’t always good about doing that). And, now the White House has responded (sorta). The petition itself is pretty clear:
Reject any law, policy, or mandate that would undermine our security.
The government should not erode the security of our devices or applications, pressure companies to keep and allow government access to our data, mandate implementation of vulnerabilities or backdoors into products, or have disproportionate access to the keys to private data.
We demand privacy, security, and integrity for our communications and systems. As a public, we should be confident that the services we use haven’t been weakened or compromised by government mandate or pressure. No legislation, executive order, or private agreement with the government should undermine our rights.
Weakening encryption weakens the entire Internet. Please endorse strong encryption, and encourage other world leaders to do the same.
The response, on the other hand, is not clear at all. It just asks people to provide more info and says it’s meeting with the people who put together the petition this week.
We want to hear from you on encryption:
Thank you for signing the petition on strong encryption and speaking out on this important national debate. As the President has said, “There’s no scenario in which we don’t want really strong encryption.” It is critical that the government, the private sector, and other experts regularly engage to understand the impacts of encryption on national security, public health and safety, economic competitiveness, privacy, cybersecurity, and human rights around the world.
This conversation about encryption is also part of a broader conversation about what we, as a nation, can do to fight terrorism as it evolves online. That is why, in his address to the nation on Sunday, the President reiterated the Administration’s call for America’s technology community and law enforcement and counter-terrorism officials to work together to fight terrorism. American technologists have a unique perspective that makes them essential in finding new ways to combat it. They are the best and most creative in the world, and we need them to bring their expertise, innovation, and creativity to bear against the threat of terrorism.
This week, administration officials will sit down with the creators of this petition to hear directly from them about their priorities and concerns.
We also want to hear from you. Share your comments and questions here, and we’ll report back after the meeting.
This is a critical conversation, and we want to hear from as many voices as we can.
Thanks again for your participation in We the People.
Now, there are all sorts of problems with this. First off, Reitman says that contrary to the claims made in the response, no one from the White House has contacted her or anyone else at EFF. So, that claim that the White House is sitting down with the creators of the petition is bogus.
Second, while you should all go to that website and tell the White House what you think about strong encryption, it’s absolutely ridiculous that anyone actually thinks that’s necessary. The petition itself told the White House what they thought about encryption and that’s that it’s important in protecting our privacy and security and undermining it is dangerous with almost no real benefit. And, indeed, almost every technology expert who has opined on this subject has said the same thing — including Ed Felten, the White House’s Deputy CTO who supposedly co-wrote this response.
Except he didn’t. Because not only does it not sound like him, the letter was actually signed by “Ed Felton” not Ed Felten:
Someone in the White House (Ed?) noticed this eventually and it’s since been changed, but it certainly suggests Felten himself had little to nothing to do with this response. The other signature on the letter is from Michael Daniel, the President’s cybersecurity czar, whose name you might recognize from that time he bragged about his lack of technology knowledge and skills, claiming it could “be a little bit of a distraction” and later argued that of course backdooring encryption was totally possible, though when asked to name a single technology expert who agreed with him, noted that “I don’t have any off the top of my head.” We’re still waiting.
Of course, I think we know which one of those two names actually wrote this non-response. But if that’s the way the government is going to play the game, we might as well make use of the tools they’ve provided and let them know (yet again) about the importance of strong encryption without backdoors.