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Don’t Panic. Making Progress on the “Going Dark” Debate.

This paper is the result of the convening of a diverse group of “security and policy experts, from academia, civil society, and the U.S. intelligence community” to delve into the ‘encryption as a threat’ narrative that has been popularized in recent public discourse, particularly following the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone and the debate on whether or not the government can compel private companies to create back-doors to encrypted devices. It is a delicate debate balancing security and privacy. This report by the Berklett Cybersecurity Group contends the notion that law enforcement is ‘going dark’ due to encryption is largely a fallacy, perpetuated by a misunderstanding of the interests of private companies and a lack of acknowledgement for new methods of surveillance provided by technological advancement, namely the Internet of Things (IoT). First, the report found that end-to-end encryption technology will not become universally applied to user data because the business models of many private companies is to generate revenue by selling user data (basically, encrypted data cannot be sold). Also, it found that the pace of development of IoT—with its mics, sensors and cameras— provides an alternative route for collecting information on offenders that will potentially be more real-time than data provided by encrypted text messages, for example. Continuing on the relevance of new technology and systems to this debate, finally, the group contends that metadata is an expansive surveillance resource that will remain unencrypted in order to ensure that systems operate properly. This report clearly defines misconceptions in the encryption debate, but in doing so, provides a overview of potential vulnerabilities and debates in the future, beyond encryption. This includes key questions about the regulation of IoT technology and the use of user data for private financial gain. Keywords: cybersecurity, surveillance, privacy, Internet of Things, metadata, law enforcement, data
Matt Olsen, Bruce Schneier, and Jonathan Zittrain
Harvard University
Industry Focus: 
Internet & Cyberspace
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