Tech firms to Obama: Hands off our encryption

In a letter signed by more than 140 tech companies, technologists and civil society groups urge President Obama to resist pressure from spying agencies to weaken personal security

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

Microsoft, Apple, Google and other tech giants and a number of leading cryptologists as well as civil society groups signed a letter pleading with US President Barack Obama to reject any proposals that would cripple the security of smartphones and other devices so that FBI and other government agencies can more easily access personal data.

“We request that the White House instead focus on developing policies that will promote rather than undermine the wide adoption of strong encryption technology,” said the letter, first reported by the Washington Post.

Among the 143 signatories were Adobe, Cisco Systems, Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, Apple, Google, HP, Microsoft, Twitter, Mozilla, Yahoo and Wikimedia. The letter was also signed by three members of Obama’s five-person group in 2013 after Edward Snowden’s leaks, unearthing the details how the US National Security Agency (NSA) violated the privacy rights of world citizens.

The letter was sent in response to recent statements from government officials such as FBI Director James Comey, asking for weaker encryptions which would ease government access to private data on smartphones, laptops or other communication devices.

“There’s no doubt that all of us should care passionately about privacy, but we should also care passionately about protecting innocent people,” Comey recently told reporters.

The Obama administration and FBI claim that tech firms’ strong encryption algorithms would play into the hands of criminals such as terrorists or pedophiles – often accused as being overused rationales or scapegoats of governments worldwide for increased censorship and privacy crackdowns. The FBI has even demanded that tech companies create exclusive “backdoors” in their software for the agency to use.

According to the letter, if such demands are agreed to governments other than US will make similar requests of companies operating in their jurisdiction and US administrations “will have little room to object.”

“The result will be an information environment riddled with vulnerabilities that could be exploited by even the most repressive or dangerous regimes,” warned the letter.

“That’s not a future that the American people or the people of the world deserve.”

TRTWorld and agencies