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Trump White House Reportedly Debating Encryption Policy Behind Closed Doors

National Security Adviser John Bolton listens to U.S. President Donald Trump speak during a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi in the Oval Office of the White House April 9, 2019 in Washington, DC.
National Security Adviser John Bolton listens to U.S. President Donald Trump speak during a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi in the Oval Office of the White House April 9, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Photo: Alex Wong (Getty)

The latest chapter of a largely behind-the-scenes encryption fight unfolded on Wednesday when Trump administration officials held a National Security Council meeting focused on the challenges and benefits of encryption, according to a report in Politico.

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One of Politico’s sources said that the meeting was split into two camps: Decide, create and publicize the administration’s position on encryption or go so far as to ask Congress for legislation to ban end-to-end encryption. That would be a huge escalation in the encryption fight and, moreover, would probably be unsuccessful due to a lack of willpower in Congress.

No decision was made by the Trump administration officials, Politico reported. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

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Not too long ago, encryption was a front page issue. Apple and the FBI fought an open and loud battle over encryption in 2015 and, during a campaign speech, then-candidate Donald Trump proposed a boycott of Apple that never materialized.

In the United States, the issue has become an important behind-closed-doors topic of discussion. FBI Director Chris Wray earlier this year described ongoing conversations between the federal government and technology giants about the issue of encryption.

“It can’t be a sustainable end state for there to be an entirely unfettered space that’s utterly beyond law enforcement for criminals to hide,” Wray said. “We have to figure out a way to deal with this problem.”

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He continued by saying that he is “hearing increasingly that there are solutions” for strong encryption that opens the targeted data to law enforcement. However, he gave no specific examples of what that means.

The fact that these discussions are ongoing both within the White House and with Silicon Valley shows that the issue is still very much alive within the corridors of power.

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Earlier this year, a court battle unfolded when the U.S. government tried to compel Facebook to decrypt Facebook Messenger’s encryption in a criminal investigation. The judge on the case, however, ruled that the details would be kept secret.

Outside of the United States, a lot has happened since encryption was in the headlines two years ago. Most notably, Australia passed an encryption law in December 2018 requiring companies to give law enforcement and security agencies access to encrypted data like Facebook’s WhatsApp or Apple’s iMessage. It’s considered a landmark test being watched closely by governments and technology companies around the world.

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In Europe, Germany — a country famous for its world-leading privacy policies — is closely considering its own encryption policy at the moment. What exactly that ultimately means in Germany, Europe, and around the world, however, remains unclear.

Reporter in Silicon Valley. Contact me: Email poneill@gizmodo.com, Signal +1-650-488-7247

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DISCUSSION

Tebow Kneeled First

Here’s the thing: Whether or not you think banning e2e encryption or installing back doors is a good idea (you would be wrong), in order to ENFORCE these policies you would have to give the government China-levels of authority.

This is America. Fuck no.