The Effect of Encryption on Lawful Access to Communications and Data

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Many have drawn parallels between today’s debate over “Going Dark” and the “Crypto Wars” of the 1990s, but much has changed since then. First, the Internet has become central to global economic activity, politics, and security. The security environment has changed, as we face much more aggressive state actors in espionage. The Snowden revelations in 2013 damaged the credibility of U.S. tech companies operating abroad, and any requirement that they facilitate U.S. government access to their customers’ communications could affect their international competitiveness.

Terrorists and criminals find creative ways to leverage the latest technologies to evade law enforcement. Technology continues to evolve, making unrecoverable encryption easier for individuals to obtain and use. Furthermore, any U.S. policy on encryption might set a precedent that other countries would be tempted to follow. While the debate thus far has pitted privacy and individual security against the critical task of stopping criminals and terrorists, there may be technical and policy solutions that can balance national security and public safety with protection of privacy, civil liberties, and a functioning global Internet ecosystem.

James Andrew Lewis
Senior Vice President; Pritzker Chair; and Director, Strategic Technologies Program

Denise E. Zheng

William A. Carter