Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina said in Tuesday night’s Republican presidential debate that she believes encrypted data should be handed over to the government – and that the government should ask tech companies instead of forcing them.
Many blame the Edward Snowden NSA disclosure as the reason behind the tech industry’s decision to refuse to capitulate with the government on this front, but a lot of the debate has to do with user data and the government’s right to it. Many tech companies simply feel that users should have privacy and control over that data, and that the government should be forced to comply with certain rules and regulations that seek to protect users. Of course, this hasn’t set well with the FBI, who is fearful of data encryption within mobile devices due to the fact that the government couldn’t benefit from backdoors that would give it an entrance into mobile devices. Data encryption “scrambles” encrypted data inside the device so that it doesn’t always exist in the same place at any given moment in time. Data encryption, thus, would force the government to secure proper documentation before gaining access, as opposed to no data encryption that could allow the government to hack devices remotely.
Asking tech companies is not as easy as it sounds, unfortunately. Tech companies themselves are often forced to comply against their own wishes, but the real issue for tech companies rears its head in the customer base. Tech companies are entrusted to maintain the privacy of its users as well as their data, and with the government forcing tech companies to comply, many have decided to do all they can to keep the government’s hands off user data that isn’t obtained through proper channels. In other words, tech companies refuse to play the Devil’s advocate and just hand over encrypted data to the government because it asks for it.
The reason for the tech company disapproval of governmental intrusion has a lot to do with the trust and respect of its customer base as well as economics. If a tech company is known to “be in the back pocket” of the government, then customers will lose trust and respect in that company and turn to others that are less intrusive. Tech companies can always comply with the government (and many do), but their cooperation is often hushed, silenced, or simply downplayed so that it doesn’t negatively impact their customer base. Tech companies are fine with not complying with the government in encrypted data, particularly if that’s the direction their customer base(s) is headed in.
Last but not least, tech companies don’t want to lose financial investment, money, profit, revenue, the whole shebang. This is the reason why Facebook-owned WhatsApp is working on providing end-to-end data encryption for its users: because private messaging app Telegram is scooping up WhatsApp’s former customer base due to its end-to-end encrypted data. Data encryption is popular with customers, and tech companies that want to live another day will go along. Customers don’t want a service that comes with backdoor access to its data for the government, and they don’t want tech companies that hand it over without a fight.
Carly Fiorina has a good idea, and good intentions, but it’ll be a blazing-hot day in December before her vision is realized. The government should ask for encrypted data and accept “no” if such isn’t given, finding the proper channels to go through to obtain information. As mentioned elsewhere, putting millions of users at risk to catch 5 users is not worth the risk for the innocent customer base.