Senior Trump administration officials met on Wednesday to discuss whether to seek legislation prohibiting tech companies from using forms of encryption that law enforcement can’t break — a provocative step that would reopen a long-running feud between federal authorities and Silicon Valley.
The encryption challenge, which the government calls “going dark,” was the focus of a National Security Council meeting Wednesday morning that included the No. 2 officials from several key agencies, according to three people familiar with the matter.
Senior officials debated whether to ask Congress to effectively outlaw end-to-end encryption, which scrambles data so that only its sender and recipient can read it, these people told POLITICO. Tech companies like Apple, Google and Facebook have increasingly built end-to-end encryption into their products and software in recent years — billing it as a privacy and security feature but frustrating authorities investigating terrorism, drug trafficking and child pornography.
“The two paths were to either put out a statement or a general position on encryption, and [say] that they would continue to work on a solution, or to ask Congress for legislation,” said one of the people.
But the previously unreported meeting of the NSC’s so-called Deputies Committee did not produce a decision, the people said.
A decision to press for legislation would have far-reaching consequences for the privacy and security of tens of millions of consumers and effectively force companies such as Apple and Google to water down the security features on their smartphones and other devices.
A ban on end-to-end-encryption would make it easier for law enforcement and intelligence agents to access suspects' data. But such a measure would also make it easier for hackers and spies to steal Americans' private data, by creating loopholes in encryption that are designed for the government but accessible to anyone who reverse-engineers them. Watering down encryption would also endanger people who rely on scrambled communications to hide from stalkers and abusive ex-spouses.
POLITICO was unable to determine what participating agency leaders said during the meeting, but there is a well-known fault line on encryption within the executive branch. Read more