CAMBRIDGE, Ma. – Cambridge Cyber Summit by MIT – The NSA came out in support of encryption. But the stand was quickly challenged by the privacy advocates, who criticized the NSA agency for having a different definition of the word “encryption” than the rest.
The NSA general counsel, Glenn Gerstell, said in a statement that the agency “believes in strong encryption” while talking to the “Privacy vs. Security: Beyond the Zero-Sum Game” panel.
Executive Director of Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Cindy Cohn, an attendee of the panel took an aggressive stand and told the NSA that when speaking of the term encryption, it should use asterisks at the end of the encryption word.
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Cohn said, “I have been in meetings with people from the FBI and NSA and when they say we believe strong encryption what they mean is strong encryption that only THEY have access to.”
“It sounds disingenuous; it seems that what they mean by strong encryption isn’t near the same as what the rest of us say,” Cohn said.
Gerstell backed the earlier statements made by the former director of the CIA and NSA, General Michael Hayden, and NSA Director Adm. Mike Rogers, when they both went to the public in support of encryption and admitted that robust crypto had given them challenges.
Gerstel explained that end-to-end encryption is not the end of all problems, people sometimes lose passwords of their encrypted computing devices and while resetting it they expose themselves to vulnerabilities, and these mishaps lead to opportunities to exploits.
The Panel, moderated by Ellen Nakashima of the Washington Post, quickly turned into privacy versus security discussion.
Gerstell told that “(encryption is) more of a law enforcement issue,” while referring to the difficulties the U.S. government faces when a terrorist group uses encrypted communication apps, and what the NSA go through to gain intelligence is more of “going spotty” rather than “going dark.” Gerstell told encryption shouldn’t be an “impenetrable wall” and there should be ways around it.
“The U.S. government shouldn’t be poking in the business of cracking the technology; rather it should help corporations to ensure security,” said Cindy Cohn.
While, the FBI v. Apple lawsuit lifted the debate of encryption. Rather, it agitated the topic for coming debates.
The MIT’s Internet Policy Research Initiative principal director of, Daniel Weitzner, interceded the discussion and said that “we’re getting tripped up” on the debate.
Weitzner said “Let’s find a solution… We should be discussing ways to which law enforcements can be useful with encryption.”
In the endnotes of the panel, Weitzner said that we’d never have perfectly secure systems, but end-to-encryption is going to be widespread, and the world needs to adapt.
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