The Lifestyle of Encryption, Enriched and Famous
What’s next, a White House roundtable on asymmetric key management?
Encryption is getting an extended stay in the spotlight, now on the tip of President Obama’s tongue following months of interest after passing Edward Snowden’s lips. In Obama’s defense, he’s acknowledging stronger encryption as a better, more secure path forward, as opposed to the head-scratching stance espoused by U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron. The position from Obama wasn’t a given, particularly after he evoked “the children” when talking data and cybersecurity a few weeks back during the State of the Union, which carried the potential for sweeping, byzantine bills or regulations.
However, Obama repeatedly noted the importance of “strong” encryption in a new interview. Here’s what Obama said in a sit-down Q&A with Re/code’s Kara Swisher about his present position in the “public conversation we should end up having” around encryption: “I lean probably further in the direction of strong encryption than some do inside of law enforcement. But I am sympathetic to law enforcement because I know the kind of pressure they’re under to keep us safe. And it’s not as black-and-white as it’s sometimes portrayed. Now, in fairness, I think the folks who are in favor of airtight encryption also want to be protected from terrorists.”
Ultimately, I’m reassured by the President’s recognition of the importance of encryption. Even more, that he’s talking with business – tech and otherwise – on ways to lead on information protection. This helps to dispel the nonsense that only criminals or people with “something to hide” should be using encryption (just ask the CIOs and CEOs Obama talked with who rely on encryption to protect our banking or retail transactions). It also hints at the everyday “lifestyle of encryption,” a phrase I heard from Gartner’s Lawrence Pingree in a recent talk on how real people truly use (and don’t use) the security resource.
While I don’t think encryption providers should be at the ready with spare decryption keys for any instance or agency, we must be open to potentially painful points on privacy and protection from Obama, business leaders and anyone else with a stake in securing the Information Age. Encryption capabilities have been enriched as a stellar safeguard for sensitive corporate data, though certainly also one type of shield for crime or other grave threats. On top of that, many of the slams against encryption of late have come from the U.S. government, a lightning rod when it comes to mass surveillance and privacy.
Between tech advances, realistic threats and dragnet information collections, there are plenty of doubts surrounding the direction of information security. As encryption continues to take its star turn, why not begin our shared national discussion there, just as Obama alludes – and include many voices who weren’t heard directly at the President’s recent cybersecurity events? Starting from a place of open, earnest discussion on something as vital as encryption provides a fantastic shot at moving everyone ahead more securely.
Decrypting the White House’s infosec plans. Here’s Obama in 2010 addressing the University of Wisconsin in Madison.