THE DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE on Monday blamed NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden for advancing the development of user-friendly, widely available strong encryption.
“As a result of the Snowden revelations, the onset of commercial encryption has accelerated by seven years,” James Clapper said during a breakfast for journalists hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
The shortened timeline has had “a profound effect on our ability to collect, particularly against terrorists,” he said.
When pressed by The Intercept to explain his figure, Clapper said it came from the National Security Agency. “The projected growth maturation and installation of commercially available encryption — what they had forecasted for seven years ahead, three years ago, was accelerated to now, because of the revelation of the leaks.”
Asked if that was a good thing, leading to better protection for American consumers from the arms race of hackers constantly trying to penetrate software worldwide, Clapper answered no.
“From our standpoint, it’s not … it’s not a good thing,” he said.
Technologists have been tirelessly working to strengthen encryption for decades, not just the past few years. But Snowden’s revelations about the pervasiveness of mass surveillance clearly accelerated its more widespread availability.
And technologists say the threat of law enforcement “going dark” has been overhyped. For instance, there are almost always ways to hack around encryption, even if you can’t break it.
Clapper acknowledged that there is no such thing as unbreakable encryption from his perspective. “In the history of mankind, since we’ve been doing signals intelligence, there’s really no such thing, given proper time, and proper application of technology.”