The Obama administration will soon refine its stance on encryption, the White House confirmed on Friday.
The upcoming statement comes on the heels of a Thursday meeting with digital rights advocates and civil liberties groups, who were behind a recent White House petition calling on the Obama administration to publicly affirm its support for unbreakable encryption that may lock out even law enforcement officials.
Many of the petition’s signers were in the room Thursday, including Access, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Democracy and Technology and New America’s Open Technology Institute (OTI). They met with top technology officials from the White House, including Michael Daniel, President Obama’s cybersecurity coordinator and Ed Felten, the administration’s deputy chief technology officer.
Privacy advocates have been leaning on the administration for months to come out publicly against any policy they believe would undermine encryption, a technology widely used to lock down digital data and hide online communications.
A clear White House stance could have a significant effect on the future of encryption, which has come under fire after terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif.
Although no evidence has been uncovered yet that either plot was hatched using encrypted communications platforms, some lawmakers and federal officials have pointed to the incidents as examples of why law enforcement should have guaranteed access to encrypted data.
“We’ve still got a big problem out there that we’re going to have to deal with and it’s called encryption,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard BurrTop Senate Dem: ‘Grave concerns’ about independence of Russia probe Trump's pick for intel chief to get hearing next week A guide to the committees: Senate MORE (R-N.C.) told reporters after a closed-door briefing with administration officials on Thursday.
Burr and Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinA guide to the committees: Senate Dem: Trump's China trademark looks like a quid pro quo Senate advances Trump's Commerce pick MORE (D-Calif.), the Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, are planning to offer a bill that would force tech firms to decrypt data under court order, even if those companies claim the encryption is unbreakable.
Technologists say this type of guaranteed access would expose secured data to hackers as well as government officials, lowering overall digital security.
Privacy groups and the tech community are hopeful the Obama administration could serve as a counterweight to this legislative push.
They recently succeeded in convincing the administration to back away from actively promoting any bill that might require companies to decrypt data upon request.
After Thursday’s meeting, the pro-encryption attendees felt positive about the White House’s upcoming stance.
“They did seem to share our overall goal of moving the discussion beyond the debate over encryption into a more productive conversation about how best to provide for national security in the current technological environment,” Kevin Bankston, director of the OTI, told The Daily Dot.