The FBI and National Security Agency want to weaken encryption by forcing technology companies to build a back door into products through which government actors can access users' private communications. But British Prime Minister David Cameron would like to go a step further, banning encrypted communications altogether.
In a speech following the Charlie Hebdo shooting, Cameron pondered whether "we want to allow a means of communication between two people which even in extremis with a signed warrant from the home secretary personally that we cannot read?"
His answer: "No, we must not. The first duty of any government is to keep our country and our people safe."
In June, Cameron concurred with a member of Parliament who opined that it was time "companies such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter…understand that their current privacy policies are completely unsustainable." But privacy advocates and tech experts warn there's no way to provide government an end-run around security measures without also leaving systems vulnerable to the criminal element.
Even as the law enforcement and surveillance communities clamor for greater access to our digital lives, the U.S. government has had a hard time keeping its own data secure. To cite one example among several, in May hackers infiltrated the Internal Revenue Service, stealing sensitive information on 100,000 taxpayers.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Pesky Encryption".