President Obama will now be forced to publicly describe the extent of his commitment to protecting strong encryption, after nearly 50 major technology companies, human rights groups, and civil liberties collectives—including Twitter, the ACLU, and Reddit — succeeded in getting over 100,000 signatures on a White House petition on Tuesday.
The government’s “We the People” platform, created in 2011, was designed as “a clear and easy way for the American people to petition their government.” Once a petition gains 100,000 signatures, it is guaranteed a response.
The savecrypto.org petition demands that Obama “publicly affirm your support for strong encryption” and “reject any law, policy, or mandate that would undermine our security.”
FBI director James Comey has been preaching about the dangers of end-to-end encryption for the past year, saying it blocks law enforcement from monitoring communications involving criminals and terrorists. He’s asked for special access into encrypted communications — a “back door” or “front door.”
However, technologists and privacy advocates insist that any hole in encryption for law enforcement can be exploited by hackers.
Comey testified earlier this month before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that the White House was not seeking legislation to force companies to build backdoors into their products—at least not yet.
However, top intelligence community lawyer Robert S. Litt wrote in a leaked e-mail obtained by the Washington Post that public opinion could change “in the event of a terrorist attack or criminal event” where encryption stopped law enforcement from detecting the threat. He recommended “keeping our options open for such a situation.”
Now, the White House will have to speak for itself.
“More than 100,000 users have now spoken up to ask the Administration to make a strong statement in support of data security – no back doors, no golden keys, no exceptional access,” said Amie Stepanovich, the U.S. Policy Manager for digital rights group Access Now, one of the founding organizations of the petition along with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “We thank those who have stood with us and look forward to President Obama’s response.”