Hillary Clinton says she wouldn’t mandate encryption backdoors

Hillary Clinton made her strongest statement regarding encryption in the ABC democratic debate Saturday night.

When asked if she would support a law mandating backdoors in encryption, Clinton said she “would not want to go to that point.” It is a universal consensus among cryptography academics and the technology community that adding a backdoor or “weakening” encryption algorithms so that law enforcement can read messages would also allow malicious actors to read the messages.

This comes as a change from exactly one month ago, when Clinton hinted that she may support backdoors.

“I would hope that, given the extraordinary capacities that the tech community has, and the legitimate needs and question from law enforcement, that there could be a Manhattan-like project, something that would bring the government and tech communities together to see they’re not adversaries, they’ve gotta be partners,” Clinton said. “It doesn’t do anybody any good if terrorists can move toward encrypted communication that no law enforcement agency can break into before or after… there must be some way.”

There may be some problems with Clinton’s proposal. Since encryption is a mathematical algorithm, any weakening will also make it weaker for criminals or nation-state attackers.

“I don’t know enough about the technology, Martha, to be able to say what it is, but I have a lot of confidence in our tech experts,” Clinton said. “And maybe the backdoor is the wrong door. And I understand what Apple and a lot of the others are saying about that.”

Governor Martin O’Malley agreed with Clinton. “I believe we should never give up our privacy, never should give up our freedoms in exchange for the promise of security,” O’Malley said.

Clinton is referencing the numerous statements Apple CEO Tim Cook has made regarding encryption. Apple’s latest devices running iOS are encrypted by default, and the company claims their messaging service, iMessage, is end-to-end encrypted, meaning only the sender and the intended recipient can read the messages.

“But I also understand when a law enforcement official, charged with the responsibility of preventing attacks—to go back to our earlier question, how do we prevent attacks—well, if we can’t know what someone is planning, we are going to have to rely on the neighbor, or the member of the mosque, or the teacher, somebody, to see something,” Clinton said. “I just think there’s got to be a way, and I would hope our tech companies would work with government to figure that out, otherwise law enforcement is blind.”

The Obama administration is expected to make a statement regarding encryption backdoors sometime before the holidays, according to a Daily Dot report.

Correction: Transcript has been updated.

Illustration by Max Fleishman

William Turton

William Turton

Once named one of Forbes’ 20 Under 20 and hired as a staff writer for the Daily Dot when he was still a senior in high school, William Turton is a rising tech reporter focusing on information security, hacking culture, and politics. Since leaving the Daily Dot in April 2016, his work has appeared on Gizmodo, the Outline, and Vice News Tonight on HBO.