Rights Groups, Activists Ask President To Respond To Unanswered Encryption Petition

from the running-out-of-time dept

A bunch of organizations concerned with privacy, free press, and human rights are gently reminding the outgoing president that he still hasn't fully responded to a We the People petition about encryption.

Today, 18 organizations called on U.S. President Obama to make a declarative statement in support of strong encryption. The letter comes on the one-year anniversary of the day that a joint petition (SaveCrypto.org) reached 100,000 signatures, achieving a threshold that, according to the White House, would trigger a substantive response within 60 days. That never happened.

The key word here is "substantive." The White House did issue two "responses." The first was canned PR stating the White House was absolutely dying to have a conversation about encryption, but noting that fighting terrorism would probably override citizens' wishes for full support from President Obama. It did nothing to address the specifics of the petition and was so full of fluff the authors couldn't even properly forge the typed signature of the person they claimed wrote it.

The petition itself told the White House what they thought about encryption and that's that it's important in protecting our privacy and security and undermining it is dangerous with almost no real benefit. And, indeed, almost every technology expert who has opined on this subject has said the same thing -- including Ed Felten, the White House's Deputy CTO who supposedly co-wrote this response.

Except he didn't. Because not only does it not sound like him, the letter was actually signed by "Ed Felton" not Ed Felten.

That has since been fixed. An update was added a couple of weeks later assuring petitioners that theirs calls were very important and to please stay on the line. After that, the Obama Administration appears to have shut the lights off and gone home -- at least as far as this petition goes.

The gentle reminder [PDF] points out that the petition made specific requests and the White House has completely ignored them.

On September 29, 2015, Access Now, EFF, and a coalition that grew to nearly 50 organizations and companies initiated a petition using your “We the People” platform. The petition asked you to “[p]ublicly affirm your support for strong encryption,” and to “[r]eject any law, policy, or mandate that would undermine our security” online. It also asked you to encourage other governments worldwide to do the same. The petition, also available at SaveCrypto.org, garnered more than 100,000 signatures in fewer than 30 days.

Instead of answers, the American public got reassurances that the government was listening. All well and good if the White House had followed it up by actually doing something. But it has remained silent on the issue of rejecting anti-encryption legislation. And, in the meantime, the attacks on encryption technology have increased.

In the 365 days since our petition hit the 100,000 signatory threshold to ensure a response from the administration, the FBI attempted to force Apple to build an entirely new, insecure operating system to bypass its security protocols and the U.S. Congress and legislatures in individual states have debated passing harmful anti-security legislation that would endanger the technology sector globally. Around the world, governments have capitalized on the lack of leadership in support for encryption and implemented harmful laws and policies. China specifically cited to the rhetoric in the U.S. last December when it passed a new law that likely bans end to end encryption, with no upper limit on fines for non-compliant companies. The UK is on the cusp of passing a law that could, practically, have the same impact. And from Brazil to Russia to India we are seeing other actions or proposals that could undermine the security of the global internet.

If the White House isn't willing to take a strong stance on this, then it will be that much easier for it to shrug and say "everyone else is doing it" when anti-encryption legislation lands on the Oval Office desk. If Obama doesn't tackle this now, he's leaving it for his successor. And neither of the two Presidential candidates seem all that opposed to undermining encryption for national security or law enforcement reasons.

Filed Under: encryption, going dark, white house


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  • icon
    TechDescartes (profile), 31 Oct 2016 @ 8:38am

    If Only They'd Had Encryption

    Except he didn't. Because not only does it not sound like him, the letter was actually signed by "Ed Felton" not Ed Felten.So someone hacked their site and posted a false statement?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 1 Nov 2016 @ 7:16am

      Re: If Only They'd Had Encryption

      So someone hacked their site and posted a false statement?

      No, someone in the administration wrote up a response and pretended that it was from Felten.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jake, 31 Oct 2016 @ 8:44am

    None of those petitions ever get answered with anything but PR bullshit

    Has there ever been a single petition from that site that was answered reasonably? I'm going to go out on a limb and say that every single one that has been answered received a bullshit, PR answer. That petition site is completely worthless.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Oct 2016 @ 8:52am

      Re: None of those petitions ever get answered with anything but PR bullshit

      I don't have any examples at hand, but I'm pretty sure I remember them issuing substantive responses in a few cases when the petition asked them to do something they already really wanted to do anyway. That doesn't count for much, but it's arguably an example of a non-BS answer.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Oct 2016 @ 8:54am

    Of course they're listening

    Instead of answers, the American public got reassurances that the government was listening.

    With strong encryption, they couldn't do that any more. There's your answer.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Oct 2016 @ 9:13am

    nothing new here then! same ol' same ol' heap of shit that comes out, not just from Obama, or whoever is in the hot seat as President, but from everyone with any kind of authority, in whichever security force, because they all think the people are scum, are shit and pathetic, who dont deserve to get any answer, let alone the real one!! and dont forget, those above also think they are a fucking site better than any of us as well!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Oct 2016 @ 10:01am

    Wow, someone believed what Obama said?

    Sadly, there are far too many someone's doing that believing. But I am not surprised... we only have a problem with a liar when they are not on our side.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Digitari, 31 Oct 2016 @ 10:07am

    the Government has a response...

    but it's encrypted, and they've forgotten the password!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 31 Oct 2016 @ 1:04pm

    all that comes out of those mouthpieces is words not worth a cent. They tell people what they want to hear then go back on them as soon as they benefit from them.


    They might as well have a mass prayer for all the good that a white house petition will do. A god is more likely to follow through than the president imo.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 1 Nov 2016 @ 1:23am

    They have answered

    It wasn't 'official', but it's pretty clear that Obama is not a fan of anyone having encryption but the government.

    If he stays silent while the other parts of the government time and time again attack encryption either he agrees that working encryption for non-government individuals/companies is a bad thing, or he thinks it's good but is too cowardly to say so in opposition to those attacking it. Those are really the only two possibilities that I can see.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Nov 2016 @ 10:32am

    Please Mr. Puppet, let us use strong encryption.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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