Max Levchin is a very smart guy. He’s the former CTO and cofounder of PayPal, a member of the PayPal mafia that spawned much of Web 2.0, and the chairman and largest shareholder of Yelp. And when it comes to cyber security, fraud, and encryption, the guy knows his stuff. Seriously.
So when Levchin says he’s concerned that politicians may not know “what they hell they’re talking about” when it comes to encryption, that he hopes those debating it “understand how it works” and that he has a “sneaking suspicion in a lot of cases they do not,” he’s just being polite. He means they’re freaking clueless.
Once again, the politicians have it wrong. The very notion of mandating encryption backdoors to track terrorists would be nothing short of a disaster that would make us all far less safe and secure. It was the same with net neutrality, where consumers were duped into supporting yet another regulatory overreach through misinformation and fear mongering by self-serving government officials, consumer advocates, and corporate executives.
As I explained in “How Obama, the FCC and Netflix are Duping America on Net Neutrality,” Netflix CEO Reed Hastings drummed up a bogus campaign accusing Comcast and other ISPs of intentionally throttling Netflix traffic in an attempt to extort the streaming video company to pay exorbitant fees for direct connections.
None of that turned out to be true.
Large content providers like Google, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, and eBay have long-standing direct interconnect deals with nearly every large ISP to ensure there’s enough bandwidth for their content. And Netflix, which generates more traffic than any of them, was trying to get off cheap because the company’s losing money.
And all the nonsense about paid prioritization and Internet fast lanes that would favor some content over others was nothing but fear mongering by consumer groups that want government controlled everything.
The truth is, no ISP would ever consider something as ludicrous as discriminating against specific Internet content or prioritizing what comes down the last-mile to your home. Nothing like that has ever happened in the 20+ years the Internet has been around, to my knowledge. The entire notion was idiotic.
So why are we now stuck with FCC net neutrality regulations? Netflix started the FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) campaign, the clickbait-hungry media picked it up, the social media hordes magnified it a thousand-fold, all the digital drones marched in lockstep, and President Obama and FCC chairman Tom Wheeler ran with it.
The same sort of thing is happening again with encryption. Fear-mongering politicians and bureaucrats claim they can’t continue to track “bad guys” who “go dark” by using encrypted messaging apps, so they want a government-mandated backdoor.
But as Levchin and Apple CEO Tim Cook have painstakingly explained, any kind of backdoor will also let the bad guys in. Make no mistake, terrorists and cybercriminals will stop at nothing until they hack in. And once they do, the cryptography underlying everything we do online will be forever compromised.
“Some in Washington are hoping to undermine the ability of ordinary citizens to encrypt their data. We think this is incredibly dangerous,” Cook warned in a recent speech. “If you put a key under the mat for the cops, a burglar can find it, too. Criminals are using every technology tool at their disposal to hack into people’s accounts. If they know there’s a key hidden somewhere, they won’t stop until they find it.”
The more commerce, communicating, living, and working we do online, the more we depend on encryption to keep the information that matters most to us safe and secure. We simply cannot afford to undermine what’s quickly becoming our way of life in an increasingly digital world.
Don’t get caught up in the hype. Legislating or regulating an encryption backdoor is far more dangerous than net neutrality rules. It would be exploited by the bad guys and ultimately make us all less safe and secure. It would be a disaster.