Deputy AG sounds the alarm over 'warrant-proof' encryption

Deputy AG sounds the alarm over 'warrant-proof' encryption
© Greg Nash

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Wednesday lamented how encryption has made it more difficult for law enforcement officials to do their jobs, calling for a public debate about the use of the technology.

Rosenstein was careful not to come out against encryption — calling it a “valuable tool” essential to the growth of the digital economy — but he raised alarm over messaging applications and smartphones that use encryption and potentially allow criminals a means of evading law enforcement. 

“We in law enforcement have no desire to undermine encryption,” Rosenstein said during remarks at the Cambridge Cyber Summit in Boston. He added, however, that “the advent of warrant-proof encryption is a serious problem.” 

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Rosenstein said there needs to be a balance between security and privacy. He indicated the public is unaware of the negative impacts of companies creating “lock boxes” that prevent police access to data. 

“Security is not necessarily binary,” Rosenstein said. “We can have managed security that permits fair and effective enforcement of laws.” 

The debate over encryption has been a source of tension between law enforcement and companies in the private sector, as well as with privacy advocates. High-profile cases have highlighted the issue, including the fight between the FBI and Apple over unlocking an iPhone used by one of the attackers in the December 2015 San Bernardino, Calif., shooting. 

Rosenstein made the remarks during an address on cyber crime at the annual Cambridge Cyber Summit, a one-day event featuring technology leaders and government officials.