Tech Giants Testify to Congress as ‘Five Eyes’ Demands Access to Encrypted Data

CC0 / / Cyber space
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The Five Eyes, an intelligence alliance comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States, issued a memo last week urging tech companies to institute a “backdoor” into users’ encrypted information to allow governments to access such data.

"Many of the same means of encryption that are being used to protect personal, commercial and government information are also being used by criminals, including child sex offenders, terrorists and organized crime groups to frustrate investigations and avoid detection and prosecution," the Five Eyes said in a recent statement, which was issued by Australia's Department of Home Affairs.

​Meanwhile, Twitter Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Capitol Hill Wednesday. The social giants defended their platforms, claiming that they do not "moderate" content after being accused of doing so by a July 2018 Vice News report. Conservatives have also alleged that their voices have been censored or in some cases "shadow banned" on certain social media sites.

On Wednesday, web developer and technologist Chris Garaffa joined Radio Sputnik's Loud & Clear to discuss the repercussions of the Five Eyes agencies demanding access to encrypted material.

"If you look at the UK, [UK Prime Minister] Theresa May has been launching this massive campaign against the encryption, calling it a national security issue. Really briefly, what encryption does is take your message or your image and encodes it in such a way that only you and your recipient can see it. You can store encrypted files on your computer and on your phone. It's a way to protect something so that only people with a key can open it. So, what these governments want to do is force these technology companies to insert a back door, meaning that technology companies would have a way to get into your device and your information," Garaffa told hosts John Kiriakou and Brian Becker.

"As computers get faster, encryption gets better, and it takes longer and longer to crack it without knowing the secrets behind it. And so installing a backdoor will effectively let them [governments] do it instantly," Garaffa added. 

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"Under enough pressure, what will these companies do when they're told to insert backdoors into their products? And these backdoors have been in other products before."

In 2014, a number of major tech firms, including Apple, Microsoft and Google, made headlines after it was revealed that they cooperated with the US National Security Agency (NSA) in its extensive PRISM surveillance program. The program was launched in 2007 and exposed six years later by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

According to Garaffa, encryption backdoors could potentially allow foreign governments to hack into US intel.

"A backdoor doesn't stay secret for long. Any time there is a way to get into a system to expose data on it, somebody will find that, whether it is a rogue NSA employee or security researchers, and they will exploit it. We need to be very concerned about these backdoors," Garaffa noted. 

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On Wednesday, Sandberg and Dorsey also testified at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on preventing election interference by Russia and other powers.

"Some of the senators made it seem like the [testimony] was about privacy, but effectively this was part of the anti-Russia, anti-China, anti-Iran campaign. Dorsey and Sandberg of Twitter and Facebook, respectively, were on Capitol Hill today in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee for their fourth appearance in a series of talks on social media. Interestingly, Google did not show up, and they said a couple of days ago that they were not going to show up," Garaffa told Sputnik.

"Today's hearing was a way to condemn the Russian, Chinese and Iranian governments, because the US government is waging real wars and information wars against them."

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