Former national security officials urge government to embrace rise of encryption

December 16, 2015

Ellen Nakashima

A number of former senior national security officials are urging that the government embrace the move to strong encryption by tech companies — even if it means law enforcement will be unable to monitor some phone calls and text messages in terrorism and criminal investigations.

In so doing, they are taking a position at odds with their colleagues inside government, including FBI director James B. Comey. US officials argue that without access to such data, they may miss critical evidence of a terrorist plot or a murder or kidnapping.

But these former officials — previously at the National Security Agency, the CIA, the Pentagon, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — are saying that there are larger, strategic national and economic security imperatives that outweigh law enforcement’s operational needs.

And they say that recent terrorist attacks in Paris and in San Bernardino, Calif., have not changed their views. Mike McConnell, who headed the NSA in the 1990s during the first national debate over federal encryption policy, recalled how 20 years ago, he was for backdoor access to encrypted communications for the government.

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