October 30, 2020
Encryption has been a topic of heated debate in the United States and worldwide during the last six years. The COVID-19 epidemic added a new twist to the debate: with millions of people now working, playing, and studying remotely from home, strong encryption is more important than ever to protect the privacy and security of our data and communications. And yet, the U.S. government is currently closer than it's come in years to effectively banning strong encryption.
Two bills have been introduced this year in the U.S. Congress that threaten encryption. One bill would strip a key legal immunity from tech companies to make them more broadly liable for child sex abuse content on their platforms. Called the EARN IT Act, the bill is widely believed to be a stealth attack on encryption, for which it contains only weak protections. Those protections, however, would be rendered moot by the second bill, the Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act. That bill would directly mandate that U.S. online service providers must build a backdoor into their encryption for law enforcement purposes. This talk will review the two bills, provide some legal background for them, and explain why they're an incredibly stupid idea.
Riana Pfefferkorn is the Associate Director of Surveillance and Cybersecurity at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society. Her work focuses on investigating and analyzing the U.S. government's policy and practices for forcing decryption and/or influencing crypto-related design of online platforms and services, devices, and products, both via technical means and through the courts and legislatures. Riana also researches the benefits and detriments of strong encryption on free expression, political engagement, economic development, and other public interests.
Prior to joining Stanford, Riana was an associate in the Internet Strategy & Litigation group at the law firm of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, where she worked on litigation and counseling matters involving online privacy, Internet intermediary liability, consumer protection, copyright, trademark, and trade secrets and was actively involved in the firm's pro bono program. Before that, Riana clerked for the Honorable Bruce J. McGiverin of the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico. She also interned during law school for the Honorable Stephen Reinhardt of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Riana earned her law degree from the University of Washington School of Law and her undergraduate degree from Whitman College.