The Case Against a Golden Key

Encryption Is a Life or Death Matter

A new "Secure Call" smartphone, March 9, 2014. Wolfgang Rattay / Reuters

In April, not long after Apple refused to unlock the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters, a variety of U.S. law enforcement representatives and officials, including the FBI, announced their support of an encryption bill that would require companies to “comply with court orders to protect Americans from criminals and terrorists.” In short, to encode in all the software running on cell phones or personal computers a backdoor, or a “golden key,” for the authorities. Although the FBI’s legislative initiative failed earlier this year, a new effort to expose Americans’ data is under way in Congress.

Developing such keys is unproductive and dangerous. Although the primary worry in the United States is that it could lead to mass surveillance, the lesser-known hazard is that it could jeopardize the safety of human rights activists, primarily those based abroad who rely on U.S. encryption tools to do

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