As government leaders and technologists continue to butt heads over the use of strong encryption, the top defense official in the United States said he supports users’ rights to employ the technology and does not thing the government will come up with a magic answer to the crypto problem.
Speaking at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference this week, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said that he believes the use of strong encryption is an important right for Americans.
“Yeah, we are very much in favor of strong encryption,” Carter said.
While both the government and private citizens use encryption for a number of purposes, the disagreement over its use has been ongoing for more than two decades. The current iteration of the argument has been spurred by the recent increase in the number of encrypted messaging apps, voice apps, and mobile devices that employ full-disk encryption by default. This year’s Apple-FBI conflict grew out of a desire for the bureau to gain access to an iPhone that was protected by a PIN code and encrypted. Apple said it had no way to bypass the security measures on the phone, which had been used by a terrorist, and the FBI went to court to get an order directing the company to build a custom, backdoored version of iOS to load onto the phone.
“There isn’t one way that’s going to be invented by the government.”
That conflict ended eventually when the FBI bought a technique for accessing the phone from a third party. But the argument over law enforcement access to encrypted devices or communications–whether through a pre-installed backdoor or exceptional access–has continued and expanded. Carter said nothing will be solved unless the government and the technology community work together on the problem.
“It is important for us collectively, through the government in an appropriate way to have access to information for law enforcement purposes,” Carter said. “That’s a deep and important question.”
He added that it’s unlikely that a single solution to the problem will emerge, particularly from the government side.
“There isn’t going to be on technical solution to this, and I know people talk about back doors and all of this stuff. In order for us to work through this we need to work through it in partnership,” Carter said.
“I think there are ways to do it but I don’t think there’s one way. There isn’t one way that’s going to be invented by the government. I’m committed to working through this.”