Trump Administration Demands An End To Strong Encryption While Being Exhibit A For Why We Need It

In the 18th Century the Founding Fathers were worried about tyrants. They were worried about government officials abusing the powers of their office and the fate of the nation if there were no check on their power. In the 21st Century those concerns have hardly faded. Today we have a presidential administration that, if nothing else, has publicly (and privately) attempted to turn the ship of state against multiple political opponents, and with such an audacious expectation of impunity that it leaves no basis to believe it would not do the same to anyone else who stands against it.

It now it demands more tools to perpetuate these attacks. At a time when the survival of our democracy most critically depends on the people's ability to push back against these sorts of abuses of governmental power, the government seeks to hobble the public's ability to do it –- this time by destroying the ability to keep their communications secret. Because that's what encryption "backdoors" do: completely and utterly obliterate any technical ability to maintain the secrecy in one's data. You can't just backdoor them a little bit -– either communications are secure from all prying eyes, or none of them. And this administration is insisting that it should get to see them all.

This administration is not, of course, the first to have demanded the ability to get access to people's data. Both Democratic and Republican administrations have made similar demands (and even helped themselves to it). Each time they have articulated policy arguments for why the government should have the power to read people's private communications, and sometimes these arguments have even been compelling. But none have ever outweighed the critical liberty interest that depends on being able to prevent government access to all of everyone's private communications, and today we see exactly why.

The Constitution guarantees the personal freedom necessary to stand against a tyrannical state actor prone to misusing its power. We have been sloppy over the years in preserving that liberty legally, thanks to the implicit assumption that the government is inherently one of the Good Guys and the people seeking to keep their data private presumably are the Bad Guys. It is a view that has infected our understanding of the Fourth Amendment and allowed the government to invade people's privacy in ways the text of the Constitution never allowed. But today we see with painful clarity how it was also a view predicated on wholly unsound assumptions.

Today we regularly see our President, Chief Executive, and most senior official charged with enforcing our laws not only routinely flout these very same laws but also routinely threaten those whose sole "crime" is standing against him with vindictive, and meritless, ruinous prosecution. These are not the actions of a benevolent government eager to protect the public from wrongdoing. They are the actions of an autocrat all too happy to victimize people as willingly as the most hardened criminal.

Which leaves the public on its own to protect itself, and already significantly hampered. It is bad enough that Trump makes it so treacherous to speak out against him publicly. But when we can no longer speak publicly it becomes all the more important that we be able to speak privately – yet that is exactly what this administration is trying to prevent in demanding encryption backdoors. Should it get its wish, no one will be able to keep secrets from this administration, or challenge its power. It will be able to continue its abuses unchecked.

This untenable state of affairs is not what the Founders had in mind, what the Constitution permits, or what our continued democracy can tolerate. It is thus vital to resist this backdoor demand.

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