Thursday, 11 June 2020 10:30

US pollies seek Juniper case details in fight against encryption law

Senator Ron Wyden: "Congress and the American people must understand the serious national security risks associated with weakening the encryption that protects Americans’ personal data." Senator Ron Wyden: "Congress and the American people must understand the serious national security risks associated with weakening the encryption that protects Americans’ personal data." Courtesy YouTube

American politicians, who are trying to stop legislation by the government to place obstacles in the way of companies using end-to-end encryption, are seeking information about the subversion of encryption at Juniper Networks in 2015.

Reuters reported that Ron Wyden, a Democrat member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, could provide additional insight on the downsides of broken encryption before a hearing was held on the government's legislation.

Juniper had included code from the NSA in its NetScreen security software which created a means of eavesdropping through its equipment and this had been altered, either by internal or external sources, providing access to traffic from users.

The change was exposed by researchers in the Dual Elliptic Curve, a security mechanism that was widely believed to contain a backdoor.

“Attorney-General (William) Barr is demanding that companies like Facebook weaken their encryption to allow the Department of Justice to monitor users’ conversations,” Wyden said.

“Congress and the American people must understand the serious national security risks associated with weakening the encryption that protects Americans’ personal data, as well as government and corporate systems.”

The EARN IT Act aims to add riders to the use of section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that allows online platforms to escape liability for things their users say and do.

For example, one can sue the person who defamed you on a platform like Twitter, but not the platform itself. An amendment to this section in 2018 has made platforms liable for publishing information designed to facilitate sex trafficking.

The new bill makes it necessary for platforms to earn the immunity that Section 230 has afforded so far. And one of the conditions for earning that immunity could well be the ditching of end-to-end encryption.

Wyden and Republican Mike Lee of the Judiciary Committee have written to Juniper chief executive Rami Rahim, asking what happened to an investigation that the company had said it was conducting after the unauthorised code was found.

The battle for a backdoor into encrypted platforms has been going on since 2016, when the FBI demanded that Apple create a new version of its iOS operating system so that the agency could guess the passcode on an iPhone 5 that was owned by a terrorist.

The case went to court, Apple refused and finally the FBI paid a commercial firm to get the data.

In a more recent case, the FBI asked Apple for help in unlocking an iPhone used by a man who shot dead three people in Florida. In this case, too, the FBI managed to gain access on its own.

The UK passed legislation in 2016 that would permit the breaking of encryption and Australia followed suit in 2018.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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