Encryption genie is out of the bottle: Ex-NSA director
By Benjamin Cher March 24, 2016
- Law enforcement and national security just have to deal with it
- A bigger problem brewing from the Apple vs FBI issue
THANKS to the ongoing legal battle between the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Apple Inc, the encryption genie has been let out of the bottle, and law enforcement and national security agencies just have to get used to the idea, said a former director of the US National Security Agency (NSA).
“My view is that we are going down a path that will result in ubiquitous encryption around the world – there’s too much value in the system,” said John Michael McConnell (pic above), now a senior executive advisor at management consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton.
“If you accept that premise, that means organisations with missions will have to adjust how they do their missions,” he told Digital News Asia (DNA) in Singapore, referring to agencies tasked with law enforcement and national security.
While a vice admiral in the US Navy, McConnell also served as NSA director from 1992 to 1996, and later as US director of national intelligence from 2007 to 2009 as a civilian under the Bush Administration.
With so many nation-states engaging in economic espionage [and sabotage], encryption is the only answer for many, he argued.
“If you want to mitigate the fact that information is vulnerable when it goes from A to B, and information is vulnerable when it is at rest, if you want to protect that information – you have to encrypt it,” he said.
“The greater common good for the world is having encrypted data that is protected.
“That means those of us in law enforcement or national intelligence will have to react to that new reality and adjust to it accordingly,” he added.
Bigger than Apple vs FBI
The FBI has asked Apple to provide a backdoor that will allow the agency to get into the data of an iPhone used by one of the San Bernadino shooters, and got a court order compelling the company to do so.
Apple has refused the court order, saying it sets a dangerous precedent. The legal tussle saw a surprise twist earlier this week when the FBI claimed to have found a way of unlocking the phone.
Meanwhile, McConnell said there is a bigger argument brewing, and “this is whether Apple, Google or others can build infrastructure that has ubiquitous and unbreakable encryption.”
“If that evolves in the United States, what are other nation-states going to do about it? Is Singapore going to allow unbreakable encryption, non-accessible to law enforcement? Is China? Is Russia?
“I think you’re going to have some serious debates on that issue,” he added.
McConnell believes that in time, the world will see that the benefits of encryption outweigh the disadvantages.
“That means that others with missions, or which conduct activities to protect nation-states, private and personal interests, are going to adjust to the state of technology as it evolves,” he said.
But it does look like the US Government is trying to legislate against evolving technology, which McConnell described as a “zero-sum game.”
“Legislation is being introduced in US Congress to always require a company to respond to provide information to a warrant from a law enforcement agency,” he said.
“To me, that pushes technology back – do you learn to live with technology or legislate against it?
“As far as I’m aware, every time we try to legislate against evolving technology, eventually technology evolves one way or the other,” he added.
Next Up: Some will choose failure over change
Apple vs FBI: What you need to know
HITB GSEC: The privacy and security balancing act, or not
Cybersecurity industry facing AI, privacy and trust issues: RSA president
For more technology news and the latest updates, follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn or Like us on Facebook.