Former CIA director endorses unbreakable encryption

The former director of the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency said this week that the government should not have a backdoor into encrypted communications.

“America is more secure with end-to-end unbreakable encryption,” said General Michael Hayden, now a principal of the security and risk management firm Chertoff Group, speaking at a Wall Street Journal conference.

{mosads}Hayden’s comments are part of a tense debate over the degree of access that law enforcement agencies should have into secure communications.

In the wake of the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., law enforcement and some lawmakers have been pressing tech companies to give investigators guaranteed access to encrypted data.

Led by FBI Director James Comey, they say encryption has allowed terrorists and criminals to plot beyond the reach of investigators.

But a growing chorus is joining the tech and privacy community in resisting the push. Hayden’s remarks echo National Security Agency Director Adm. Michael Rogers, who earlier this month insisted “encryption is foundational to the future.”

Critics say that building any type of guaranteed access into encryption algorithms introduces vulnerabilities that weaken the security of day-to-day uses of the Internet, such as banking.

Rogers did not directly back one argument over the other, but he did stress the value and the ubiquity of encryption to modern life.

“So spending time arguing about ‘Hey, encryption is bad and we ought to do away with it,’ that’s a waste of time to me,” Rogers said.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers are debating how — and whether — they should regulate encryption.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) is working on a bill with his committee’s ranking member, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), that would force companies to decrypt data under court order. Currently, companies like Apple argue their encryption makes them incapable of unlocking certain types of data.

A pair of lawmakers – House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) — worry that such a bill would weaken encryption. They’re pushing legislation that would establish a national committee to study the topic first, then present potential suggestions to Congress about how police could get at encrypted data without endangering Americans’ privacy.

Tags Dianne Feinstein Mark Warner Richard Burr

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