NSA dreams of smartphones with “split” crypto keys protecting user data

Proposal is part of a tense stand-off between US government and tech industry.

Ars Technica, by Dan Goodin, April 12

National Security Agency officials are considering a range of options to ensure their surveillance efforts aren’t stymied by the growing use of encryption, particularly in smartphones. Key among the solutions, according to The Washington Post, might be a requirement that technology companies create a digital key that can open any locked device to obtain text messages or other content, but divide the key into pieces so no one group could use it without the cooperation of other parties.

“I don’t want a back door,” Adm. Michael S. Rogers, director of the NSA, recently said during a speech at Princeton University, at which he laid out the proposal. “I want a front door. And I want the front door to have multiple locks. Big locks.”

The proposal is part of a tense debate resulting from the growing number of companies that endow their hardware and software with strong encryption that when used properly makes it infeasible if not impossible for anyone other than the owner to access the contents. Chief among these companies is Apple, which has enabled such encryption by default in newer iPhones and iPads. On the one hand, national security and law enforcement officials say the trend could seriously hinder criminal and national security investigations. Tech industry representatives, meanwhile, chafe at the thought of backdoors, citing a raft of concerns, including abuse by hackers, government overreach, and harm to US competitiveness.

Doctorow/Boing Boing: NSA declares war on general purpose computers

There’s no way to stop Americans — particularly those engaged in criminal activity and at risk from law enforcement — from running crypto without locking all computers, Ipad-style, so that they only run software from a government-approved “app-store.” The world teems with high quality, free, open crypto tools. Simply banning their integration into US products will do precisely nothing to stop criminals from getting their code from outside non-US vendors or projects. Only by attacking the fundamental nature of computing itself can the NSA hope to limit its adversaries’ use of crypto.

Washington Post: As encryption spreads, U.S. grapples with clash between privacy, security
Doctorow: Lockdown, January 2012

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