Global coalition urges governments to reject encryption laws

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Hundreds of technologists, privacy advocates and industry groups on Monday called on governments worldwide to reject any policy that could infringe on people’s ability to use robust encryption.

The coalition launched a website, SecureTheInternet.org, that includes “an open letter to the leaders of the world’s governments.”

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“Encryption tools, technologies, and services are essential to protect against harm and to shield our digital infrastructure and personal communications from unauthorized access,” the letter argued. “The ability to freely develop and use encryption provides the cornerstone for today’s global economy.”

The letter was signed by 195 experts, academics, organizations and companies in more than 40 countries.

Encryption technology has been at the center of a heated debate in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif.

Although details are slim on how exactly those terrorists might have used encryption, law enforcement officials and lawmakers have used the incidents to highlight how criminals are able to conceal their plans from investigators by using encryption communication platforms.

In response, numerous countries are considering or have already passed legislation that would require companies to decrypt data upon request from the government. In the past year, a number of tech giants, including Apple, have claimed they cannot comply with court orders seeking data, citing unbreakable encryption.

The tech community has been pushing back. Silicon Valley and digital rights advocates say forcing companies to maintain the ability to decrypt secure data ruins encryption, creating entry points that can be accessed by hackers as well as officials.

“The absence of encryption facilitates easy access to sensitive personal data, including financial and identity information, by criminals and other malicious actors,” the letter says. “Once obtained, sensitive data can be sold, publicly posted, or used to blackmail or embarrass an individual."

The letter brings together a diverse array of advocates from around the world.

Human rights groups such as Amnesty International signed on, as did privacy advocates including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Access Now. Industry associations including the Computer and Communications Industry Association and Internet Association signed the letter alongside privacy-oriented tech firms such as search engine DuckDuckGo and secure phonemaker Silent Circle. The letter also received support from leading individual experts, including technologists Bruce Schneier and Matthew Green.

David Kaye, the United Nations special rapporteur for freedom of opinion and expression, also backed the efforts. Kaye authored a report last May that expressed strong support for the unencumbered use of encryption.

“Encryption and anonymity, and the security concepts behind them, provide the privacy and security necessary for the exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in the digital age,” he said in a statement Monday.

On Capitol Hill, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard BurrGun-control supporters plan next steps versus NRA GOP senator on ISIS: 'Take the fight to them' GOP senators: Brexit vote a wake-up call MORE (R-N.C.) is leading the efforts to introduce a bill that could force companies to maintain an encryption key to unlock data when served with a warrant.

“Criminals in the U.S. have been using [encryption] for years to cover their tracks,” Burr wrote in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed.

The coalition objected to his efforts. 

"Governments should not require that tools, technologies, or services are designed or developed to allow for third-party access to unencrypted data or encryption keys," the letter said.