Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats worry negative images are defining White House Heller won't say if Biden won election Whitmer trailing GOP challenger by 6 points in Michigan governor race: poll MORE on Thursday called for Silicon Valley and the government to collaborate on resolving a roiling debate over law enforcement access to encrypted data.
“We need Silicon Valley not to view government as its adversary,” the front-running Democratic presidential candidate said in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. “We need our best minds in the private sector to work with our best minds in the public sector to develop solutions that will both keep us safe and protect our privacy.”
At issue are devices made by Apple, Google and others that are equipped with encryption so strong that the manufacturers themselves can’t decode stored information, even with a warrant.
Law enforcement and intelligence officials have long insisted that impenetrable encryption is a danger to public safety, an argument given new impetus in the wake of reports that the terrorists behind last week's Paris attacks might have used encrypted devices to plan the strikes.
They say the technology shields terrorists from necessary surveillance.
The reports that the Paris attackers used encryption have not been confirmed, but the possibility has nevertheless reignited a push for legislation mandating some form of guaranteed access for authorities.
“In the Senate Armed Services we're going to have hearings on it and we're going to have legislation,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who chairs the committee, told reporters Tuesday, calling the status quo “unacceptable.”
On Wednesday, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance released a paper calling on Congress to require that tech companies make encrypted data accessible to government searches.
The keys to unlock the devices would be held by the manufacturers themselves, not the government, according to Vance’s proposal.
Security professionals say that building any kind of “back door” into encryption destroys a device’s security by giving malicious hackers, not just law enforcement, an entry point.
Critics of a mandatory back door also say that outlawing impenetrable encryption in the U.S. will only push terrorists to communicate on unregulated non-U.S. devices.
A recently uncovered manual used by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) instructs its followers on how to stay invisible on the Internet. Supporters are directed to use Apple’s encrypted FaceTime and iMessage features over regular unencrypted text and chat features.
Some say pushing the militants onto home-grown encryption technology would be preferable to having them communicate on an unbreakable iPhone.
“I would prefer that these guys move to their own platforms because they’re not experts at it,” Morgan Wright, a cybersecurity consultant who has worked with tech companies including Cisco and Alcatel-Lucent, told The Hill earlier this week. “People who are not experts at doing this will build a bad application that can be compromised [by U.S. intelligence].”
Clinton struck a cautious tone on Thursday, acknowledging both sides of the fierce debate.
“We should take the concerns of law enforcement and counterterrorism professionals seriously,” she said. “On the other hand we know there are legitimate concerns about government intrusion, network security and creating new vulnerabilities that bad actors can and would exploit.”
“Now is the time to solve this problem, not after the next attack,” she urged.
Julian Hattem contributed.