Hillary Clinton Speaks Vaguely in Democratic Debate Regarding Encryption and Back Door Access

Presidential Hopefully on Back Door Access and Internet Privacy

Data encryption is becoming a huge topic, in light of the San Bernardino shooting in which 14 innocent lives were taken and the perpetrating couple (husband and wife) were shot in the event, not to mention the Paris attacks some weeks earlier. Many say that they had no idea that Syed Farook and his wife were dangerous in any way, but, like all events that have been mildly linked to terrorism, these two events have had the same analysis. As far as the Paris attacks are concerned, it has been said that those involved utilized private messaging apps that are encrypted end-to-end, meaning that there’s no back door available for the government, FBI, CIA, or other prying intelligence agencies to make their way through.

In light of private messaging apps, data encryption, Apple’s own decision to encrypt the iPhone 6 last year despite the FBI’s stern disapproval, the current political debates with regard to presidential candidates are heating up in this area. In last night’s Democratic presidential debate, Hillary Clinton gave her response to encryption and the issues it poses, but she said very little that gives voters confidence in her ability to navigate what has been a controversial issue raised by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden:

“Maybe the back door isn’t the right door, and I understand what Apple and others are saying about that. I just think there’s got to be a way, and I would hope that our tech companies would work with government to figure that out. It doesn’t do anybody any good if terrorists can move toward encrypted communication that no law enforcement agency can break into before or after. There must be some way. I don’t know enough about the technology to be able to say what it is, but I have a lot of confidence in our tech experts”

Well, there is some diamond in Clinton’s statement about encryption: “the back door isn’t the right door.” I couldn’t agree more. Going in and taking user data on unsuspecting citizens is nothing more than infringing upon their right to privacy. It is violating the promise of government to be concerned about the public welfare. At the same time, many would say that concern for the public welfare and ensuring the domestic good involves getting involved in data encryption, putting an end to terrorism no matter where it strikes – particularly in the American backyard.

A Vague Promise

And yet, Clinton gave nothing but generic statements about how we need to work together. Clinton wasn’t alone (as did a few other politicians), but she is in the lead as far as Democratic candidates are concerned. A number of Democratic voters don’t want back door data breaches to become commonplace, and they view the protection of their data and information as paramount to having trust in the government and its promises. At the end of the day, back door data gathering is not the way to combat terrorism. It only seeks to gather all sorts of data without restriction.

Some weigh the back door discussion like this: there are a few criminals out there, fewer criminals than honest citizens who are just trying to maintain some civil rights over their personal, private information. The government wants to catch the bad guys, the terrorists, and no citizen would deprive them of this if they can help. At the same time, however, it should be up to citizens to decide whether or not to hand over their information to the government – and not the government’s right to seize it via back door encryption without consent.

But Wait, There’s More

Now, there has to be an exception to the above rule because, if there isn’t, criminals can get away with all sorts of atrocious crimes in the name of protecting their civil rights. However, the exception to the rule should involve evidence. If there is a witness, a person, a co-conspirator that testifies to the criminal activity of the individual in question, then that individual should be treated as a criminal and have his or her property seized in the name of justice. Without evidence to even suspect someone, however (no email, no witness, no tape recordings or cell phone recordings brought in by someone else, etc.), that individual is free to maintain their privacy.

Some would say that back door breaches are the best way to track down criminals, but spying on text messages, phone calls, emails, and other files and documents of all citizens may not necessarily achieve the ends the government wants it to. There’s no guarantee that learning how terrorists think beforehand will stop them from committing a crime. The couple accused of committing the San Bernardino shooting lived beside neighbors for years and acted as though they led perfect lives. They were quiet and kept to themselves, but they led normal lives with work and some social activities – which only made them seem normal and inconspicuous, along with the rest of the US citizen population.

The Flip Side of the Coin

Donald Trump has been notorious in the press ever since he suggested the idea of stopping immigrants from coming to America until the issues are sorted out. Republicans took to the press to tell them that not all Republicans think like Donald Trump, and I applaud them for doing so. At the same time, however, thanks to past and present terrorists, it seems as though background checks, immigration and work visas, and other documentation aren’t enough to weed out the good guys from the bad guys, so to speak. It’s a bad idea, perhaps, but it’s getting to the point where terrorists have made it so bad for immigrants that the government may consider putting immigrants into tiny, isolated communities just to monitor them to prevent a future killing of the magnitudes of San Bernardino and Paris.

No matter the attempt to go around the back door policies that have dominated US intelligence, either the government will continue to use those policies or find stricter ways to deal with immigrants. At the root of it all is the human will, the fact that any human, at any time, in any place, can conspire to murder and slaughter innocent lives (or takeover the government). What the government is struggling to understand is the mystery of the human will, why humans do the things they do and what motivates them. And no amount of back door policies (or front door policies between the government and tech experts, the suggestion of Hillary Clinton) will ever crack open that mystery.

Renee Biana

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