Data encryption under increased scrutiny after Paris attacks
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In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris last week, a conversation that’s been bubbling in the tech world has just gone supernova. For months now, security officials have been arguing with tech companies over encryption. Companies like Apple, Google, and WhatsApp have started to encrypt their customers’ messages and emails as a privacy measure. But the government is worried that such encryption prevents it from gathering information about things like terrorists planning major attacks — or any other crime, for that matter.
Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal spoke with Marketplace senior tech correspondent Molly Wood.
On the ubiquity of encryption:
Encryption tools used to be a lot harder… Now it’s a lot easier. In fact, it’s so easy that it’s built into iMessage, for example. It’s built into other consumer tools like WhatsApp. There are apps called Telegram and Wickr and kind of a lot of different options that you can download. For the most part, they mean when your messages are sent from device to device they’re encrypted in transit so they can’t be intercepted and read while you’re sending them… Companies like Apple and Google are starting to build in encryption. For a long time you had to go seek it out. You had to find it, you had to implement it. Now it’s built into the apps you’re using every day.
What does the government want these tech companies that use encryption to provide?
They want a back door. And they’ve wanted a back door for a while… It was an ongoing argument. It was a long-standing request and the FBI had sort of backed away from that. They had said, clearly people don’t want a back door. Because creating a back door into encrypted products doesn’t just create a back door for the government, it creates a back door for any hacker who also wants to break in. And I think it’s been a long time coming, but American consumers have also said that they want privacy and security. They’re overwhelmingly worried about identity theft. And they’re worried about their communications being intercepted and hacked because that causes them real harm in the world too. It’s a really tricky argument and I think it’s only going to get more intense.
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