Encryption — decryption” by odder | CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Encryption is not the enemy

Ron Wyden
Published in
3 min readNov 23, 2015


In the wake of the cowardly terrorist attacks in Paris, many politicians, intelligence officials and pundits are predictably calling for a return to discredited policies of the past that would weaken Americans’ security, violate their privacy and do little or nothing to protect us from terrorists.

I am standing up against these dangerous proposals to ensure we act based on the facts, not fear, in the days ahead.

Some are calling for the United States to weaken Americans’ cybersecurity by undermining strong encryption with backdoors for the government. But security experts have shown again and again that weakening encryption will make it easier for foreign hackers, criminals and spies to break into Americans’ bank accounts, health records and phones, without preventing terrorists from “going dark.”

Last year, I introduced the Secure Data Act to ban government-mandated backdoors into Americans technology. Strong encryption and sound computer security is the best way to keep Americans’ data safe from hackers and foreign threats.

What experts are saying:

Jason Healy, Christian Science Monitor –Poisoning the Internet won’t stop more Paris attacks: “But if the terrorists are clever enough to avoid NSA-monitored technology, won’t they be smart enough to avoid future NSA-backdoored cryptography and devices? They will simply switch to non-US software that has more privacy safeguards or is difficult to monitor.”

Wired — After Paris Attacks, Here’s What the CIA Director Gets Wrong About Encryption: “While [weakening encryption] would no doubt make things easier for the intelligence and law enforcement communities, it would come at a grave societal cost — and a different security cost — and still fail to solve some of the problems intelligence agencies say they have with surveillance.”

Passcode — Influencers: Paris attacks don’t justify government access to encryption: “Law enforcement will still have no way to monitor the bad guys and the public will be left with weakened security.”

Slate — There is No good Argument for Encryption Backdoors: “Anti-terrorism ought to demand that we secure our own sensitive digital assets through encryption and that law enforcement do the targeted human policing that time and again has proved far more effective at foiling terror plots than indiscriminate and ineffective surveillance.”

Dean Garfield, Information Technology Industry Council: “Encryption is a security tool we rely on every day to stop criminals from draining our bank accounts, to shield our cars and airplanes from being taken over by malicious hacks,” Garfield said in his statement.”

Others have argued for expanding mass surveillance of Americans’ phone calls or online activity. But there is no evidence that the mass surveillance of Americans has ever stopped a terrorist attack:

Pro Publica — What’s the Evidence Mass Surveillance Works? Not much: “The [Bush administration warrantless wiretapping program] was generating numerous tips to the FBI about suspicious phone numbers and e-mail addresses, and it was the job of the FBI field offices to pursue those leads and scrutinize the people behind them. (The tips were so frequent and such a waste of time that the field offices reported back, in frustration, ‘You’re sending us garbage.’)”

New York Times — Mass Surveillance Isn’t the Answer to Fighting Terrorism: “There is no dispute that they and law enforcement agencies should have the necessary powers to detect and stop attacks before they happen. But that does not mean unquestioning acceptance of ineffective and very likely unconstitutional tactics that reduce civil liberties without making the public safer.”

Electronic Frontier Foundation — Baseless Calls to Expand Surveillance Fit Familiar, Cynical Pattern: “The attack on strong, non-backdoored encryption would make Americans, and people all over the world, less secure.”

Marcy Wheeler — Metadata Surveillance Didn’t Stop the Paris Attacks: “And yet intelligence officials and politicians are now saying it could have. They’re wrong.”

Washington Post — If government surveillance expands after Paris the media will be partly to blame: “It seems like the media was just led around by the nose by law enforcement,” said a senior government official.