Feds seeking back doors to encrypted communications

government will double available wireless spectrum obama walkingSome in the technology industry may have rolled their eyes when countries like Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, India, and others began to crack down on BlackBerry communications services because their law enforcement agencies can’t peer into encrypted message traffic—but now the Obama administration may be seeking much the same thing, but not limited to BlackBerry service. According to a report in the New York Times,, the Obama administration is seeking new federal law that would require providers of encrypted communications services—whether instant messaging, email, VoIP, or anything else—to provide unencrypted access to user communications in response to a court order. If enacted as law, it could be illegal for a U.S. software company to provide communications technology to which only the end users had decryption keys.

In the New York Times piece, FBI general counsel Valerie Caproni emphasized the agency is only considering the legislation in terms of lawful interception: federal agents would still need a court order to force communications operators to provide access to unencrypted information.

Nonetheless, the possibility of requiring providers to build back doors into secure communications technologies opens up the possibilities those back doors could be abused: for instance, attackers could uncover technical shortcomings in the access mechanism, the backdoors could be unlocked via industrial espionage or good old-fashioned social engineering. There is also the disturbing possibility the federal government could overstep or seek to redefine its powers to surveil communications, as the National Security Administration did during the Bush administration with warrantless wiretaps.

Of course, even if the U.S. were to enact a law mandating backdoors to encrypted communications, it would be challenged in court by civil liberties groups and (likely) by major U.S. business concerns who don’t want their trade secrets and operations potentially exposed to anyone—including the government or competitors. U.S. federal law also cannot control the actions of overseas companies: if such legislation were to be enacted, it’s possible software firms would merely locate their fully-encrypted products to nations that have no laws barring them. The legislation also faces potential First Amendment challenges; existing court precedent has found that the guarantee of freedom of speech protects encryption code.

The potential move is ironic for the Obama administration: one of Obama’s campaign points in 2008 was strengthening online privacy protections.


Apple banned from distributing some iPhone models in Germany

Apple is following the FTC's lead and has sued Qualcomm for a massive $1 billion in the U.S., $145 million in China, and also in the U.K., claiming the company charged onerous royalties for its patented tech.

Biometric phone unlocks can’t be forced by feds, says U.S. judge

Fingerprint and face unlocks used to not be protected by the Fifth Amendment, but that may soon change. A judge in California has ruled biometric unlocking methods of all kinds are protected in the same way as passcodes.
Emerging Tech

Drones: New rules could soon allow flights over people and at night

With commercial operators in mind, the U.S. government is looking to loosen restrictions on drone flights with a set of proposals that would allow the machines greater freedom to fly over populated areas and also at night.

Shutdown makes dozens of .gov websites insecure due to expired TLS certificates

The US government shutdown is causing trouble in internet security. As the shutdown enters day 22, dozens of government websites have been rendered insecure or inaccessible due to expired transport layer security (TLS) certificates.

Protect your expensive new laptop with the best Macbook cases

If you recently picked up a new MacBook, you’ll want something to protect its gorgeous exterior. Here, we've gathered the best MacBook cases and covers, whether you're looking for style or protection.

Watch out for these top-10 mistakes people make when buying a laptop

Buying a new laptop is exciting, but you need to watch your footing. There are a number of pitfalls you need to avoid and we're here to help. Check out these top-10 laptop buying mistakes and how to avoid them.
Product Review

LG Gram 14 proves 2-in-1 laptops don’t need to sacrifice battery for light weight

The LG Gram 14 2-in-1 aims to be very light for a laptop that converts to a tablet. And it is. But it doesn’t skimp on the battery, and so it lasts a very long time on a charge.

Don't spend a fortune on a PC. These are the best laptops under $300

Buying a laptop needn't mean spending a fortune. If you're just looking to browse the internet, answer emails, and watch Netflix, you can pick up a great laptop at a great price. These are the best laptops under $300.

Dell XPS 13 vs. Asus Zenbook 13: In battle of champions, who will be the victor?

The ZenBook 13 UX333 continues Asus's tradition of offering great budget-oriented 13-inch laptop offerings. Does this affordable machine offer enough value to compete with the excellent Dell XPS 13?

Take a trip to a new virtual world with one of these awesome HTC Vive games

So you’re considering an HTC Vive, but don't know which games to get? Our list of 25 of the best HTC Vive games will help you out, whether you're into rhythm-based gaming, interstellar dogfights, or something else entirely.

The Asus ZenBook 13 offers more value and performance than Apple's MacBook Air

The Asus ZenBook 13 UX333 is the latest in that company's excellent "budget" laptop line, and it looks and feels better than ever. How does it compare to Apple's latest MacBook Air?

AMD Radeon VII will support DLSS-like upscaling developed by Microsoft

AMD's Radeon VII has shown promise with early tests of an open DLSS-like technology developed by Microsoft called DirectML. It would provide similar upscale features, but none of the locks on hardware choice.

You could be gaming on AMD’s Navi graphics card before the end of the summer

If you're waiting for a new graphics card from AMD that doesn't cost $700, you may have to wait for Navi. But that card may not be far away, with new rumors suggesting we could see a July launch.

Is AMD's Navi back on track for 2019? Here's everything you need to know

With a reported launch in 2019, AMD is focusing on the mid-range market with its next-generation Navi GPU. Billed as a successor to Polaris, Navi promises to deliver better performance to consoles, like Sony's PlayStation 5.