Online rights groups call for encryption reform

A dozen privacy and anti-secrecy groups are calling on the Obama administration to develop tougher computer security standards.

In a letter on Monday, the groups urged the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to be more open and transparent to ensure that online encryption is as tough as possible.

“In order to re-build confidence in NIST, it is necessary that the Agency takes pro-active steps toward implementing a more transparent, accountable process for standards development,” the groups wrote.

NIST is working on new principles for developing standards of cryptography, months after revelations from leaker Edward Snowden showed that the National Security Agency (NSA) attempted to weaken security standards so it could gather information online more easily. By law, NIST is required to consult with the NSA when it develops its standards.

“NIST has traditionally served an important and unique role in the technical community,” the advocates wrote.

“If NIST is to continue to play this role, it needs to take drastic and affirmative actions to re-commit itself to its core mission and to remove any traces of impropriety.”

In addition to greater transparency, the organizations want NIST to give outside experts more opportunity to evaluate the technology, ignore the NSA's input, accept broader feedback and make the principles easy to use.

The letter was prepared by the Internet rights group Access. The Competitive Enterprise Institute, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation, TechFreedom, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Sunlight Foundation, Advocacy for Principled Action in Government, Fight for the Future, OpentheGovernment.org, Silent Circle and Student Net Alliance also signed on.