Practical Connection

  Individual privacy vs. law enforcement.

Every law enforcement officer including AG Barr, James Clapper, former DNI, and other law enforcement and intelligence service leaders have decried the ability of citizens to encrypt their data in a manner that prevents law enforcement from reading their emails or cracking the password.


The current standard in encryption is PKI. With PKI it is impossible to crack the password and decrypt a message even though the code that encrypts the message is open source and publicly available. Having the source code of the PKI algorithm does not help in cracking and decrypting the message. The only option for law enforcement when they have a phone such as the iPhone from the San Bernardino terrorist is to try to guess the password. However, Apple and Android have both made it impossible to guess a password enough times to open the phone. iPhone and Android phones both have a feature that will brick the phone after a certain number of unsuccessful guesses at the password. When trying to crack the password for the phone acquired from the San Bernardino terrorist, the FBI realized they couldn’t do it and tried to use the court system to force Apple to install a back door into their phones and provide a master key to the FBI. This effort failed.


Congress has tried many times over the years to assist law enforcement by passing a law that would require all companies building communications hardware, developing communications apps or encryption software to include a backdoor in their systems. Privacy advocates, usually composed of private citizens, have managed to defeat such legislation thus far. Privacy advocates have managed to make legislators understand that providing a master key to law enforcement guarantees that hackers will discover the backdoors and either steal the master key or develop their own.


Develop a hypothesis as to whether it would be better to have a back door into every system with a master key held by law enforcement or is it better to enable private citizens to keep their communications private.