Encryption of data 'manageable' for law enforcement, think tank says

Encryption of data 'manageable' for law enforcement, think tank says

The challenges that data encryption pose for law enforcement are manageable, according to a new analysis by a Washington, D.C., think tank, to be released later Thursday. 

The research from the Center of Strategic and International Studies, which was shared with The Hill, found no instances in which encryption played a “determinative role” in recent major terrorist attacks in Europe and the United States. 

The think tank also concluded that encryption does not play a major role in terrorists’ efforts to recruit followers over the internet.


The report comes at moment of heightened concern over cybersecurity and debate about encryption and federal authorities’ access to secured communications. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is known to use encrypted messaging applications like Telegram to communicate with potential followers, as Twitter has increasingly cracked down on accounts spreading terrorist propaganda.

Privacy advocates and cybersecurity experts largely favor encryption and have raised alarm over the possibility of agencies like the FBI and NSA creating a “backdoor” to access secured data.

Still, the rise of encryption in mobile and online communications has created hurdles for law enforcement and counterterrorism operations.

The new research estimates the number of law enforcement cases affected by encryption is small, ranging from a few dozen to several hundred. Still, the experts recommend that officials monitor any increase or decrease in the number of investigations thwarted by encryption as well as terrorists’ use of encryption in their operations. 

“Our research suggests that the risk to public safety created by encryption has not reached the level that justifies restrictions or design mandates,” the report states. “The encryption issue law enforcement faces, while frustrating, is currently manageable.”

It is not yet clear how the Trump administration will handle encryption, though the president has signaled he is on the opposite side of the debate as privacy advocates. Last year, Trump called for a boycott against Apple to force the company to help the FBI unlock the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino attackers. 

Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump labels Schiff ‘little Adam Schitt’ Top House Oversight Dem says he will do ‘anything and everything’ to make Mueller’s findings public Watchdog group demands release of Whitaker's financial disclosures MORE (R-Ala.), Trump’s choice for attorney general, has said that he wants federal investigators to be able to lawfully “overcome encryption” in order to pursue leads. 

“Encryption serves many valuable and important purposes. It is also critical, however, that national security and criminal investigators be able to overcome encryption, under lawful authority, when necessary to the furtherance of national-security and criminal investigations,” Sessions said in response to questions from Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyTrump set to have close ally Graham in powerful chairmanship Senators introduce Trump-backed criminal justice bill Dem senators want hearing on funding for detained migrant children MORE (D-Vt.) ahead of his confirmation hearing last month.