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Encryption in the U.S.: Crypto Colloquium Outcomes Report

Published: January 2018

Tags: 2010s Access Now Backdoors Economic Impact National Security Primer

Abstract: U.S. government agencies have identified the inability to access information on encrypted mobile phones as one of the largest current challenges to criminal investigations. In September 2017, Access Now, supported by the Mozilla Foundation’s Tech Policy Fellowship, hosted the Crypto Colloquium — an invite-only dialogue, with participation under the Chatham House rules — to discuss this challenge. Participants represented four stakeholder groups: civil society, academic experts, technology companies, and former U.S. government officials.

The discussion began with the assumption that it is technically possible to build mechanisms that allow law enforcement and intelligence agencies access to the material on encrypted devices without the user’s assistance.

The Crypto Colloquium was a discussion of the legal, security, and economic consequences of mandating this type of mechanism in order to ensure government access to content information on devices. The conversations overlapped in several meaningful ways, producing important observations that the participants largely agreed upon, although not necessarily unanimously.

In this report we provide a summary of the lessons learned, as well as some more general “unanswered questions” that participants identified as needing more research and analysis. The report begins with a history of the debate over encryption and description of the methodology for the Crypto Colloquium.