University of Birmingham > Talks@bham > Computer Security Seminars > Should we ban encryption? The world is not black and white

Should we ban encryption? The world is not black and white

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On the 8th of July 2015, the FBI Director, James Comey, before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee testified about the impact of encryption and stated for example: “about the growing challenges to public safety and national security that have eroded our ability to obtain electronic information and evidence pursuant to a court order or warrant. We in law enforcement often refer to this problem as “Going Dark.”“

If Clinton is elected president, or a new major terrorist attack would happen, we may see the idea of key escrow reappear. Unfortunately, the 1993 key escrow proposal had many disadvantages. Indeed, many accused turn out to be innocent. So, after the acquittal, the innocent should have all his/her rights restored. Unfortunately, in many escrow systems, if not in most, this restoration is not possible. Indeed, once the parties holding jointly the escrow (called secret shares) have used their shares to recover the accused’s secret key, there is no guarantee that this secret key is truly destroyed. Indeed, the UK having been condemned for not destroying data of acquitted, clearly shows that this scenario is not unlikely.

The first part of this lecture explains at a high level what threshold cryptography does and how it can be used to provide an escrow system that does not suffer from the above problem. The system allows the authorities to legally wiretap during the investigation and guarantees that when a person is acquitted no permanent damage has been done.

We note that the UK data confiscation approach does not require the reconstruction of the user’s secret key, and is therefore superior from the citizen’s viewpoint. We propose alternatives to key escrow that deal with a situation in which escrow agents holding secret shares have been corrupted, e.g., after a coup. This alternative approach has been called “Equitable Key Escrow.”

The final part of the talk focuses on the problem when a citizen of one country is being investigated in a second one.

This talk is part of the Computer Security Seminars series.

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