Let’s say you make safes
Your safes are very nice and your company is very successful. Your safes are known by everyone as the safes that cannot be cracked. If a customer doesn’t have the combination to their safe, that safe is never, ever, getting opened. You sell your safes with a guarantee, that no one except the owner will be able to open their safe.
You’ve sold millions of these safes. Customers buy your safe because it’s so secure. Your product commands a premium price, largely because it’s so secure. Millions and millions of safes are in the hands of your customers, out there in the wild. Everyone is satisfied with the security of their safe.
Then the government decides they want something in one of the safes you made. They’ve been watching everything that came in and out of the safe they’re interested in, but they still want to look inside. In fact, there was a copy of most of the stuff in that particular safe, which they’ve already acquired and documented. Nevertheless, they must get in the safe.
The government demands that your company open up that safe. In order to do this, your company must do a lot of work creating a new key. This is no ordinary key. It’s a key that can be used to open any of the previous safes you have sold, ever. It’s the only way to open up that safe. Fortunately for you, no one but your company is able to make this key, it cannot be accidentally discovered. The government demands that you make this key, and proudly sign your name to it.
If you make the key, it not only affects future safes sold, but it will take value away from the safes already out in the world. Your business will not collapse, because your safes are prettier than the other safes in the market, but it’s not good. Your guarantee will no longer be a reason people buy your safe. People will question if you are serious about your other “guarantees”.
Additionally, it turns out there’s an extensive backlog of other safes that your government needs opened. On top of that, there are a lot of other governments (some less nice than others) with their own backlogs. Governments have asked for this key many times before, but now things are different. They know the key they want exists, and they’re questioning if they want to let you continue to sell safes in their country. Some of these governments do terrible things, and will likely punish people for what they find in their safes. The situation will quickly get out of hand.
So what are you going to do?