Obama administration demands master encryption keys from firms in order to conduct electronic surveillance against Internet users

“The U.S. government has attempted to obtain the master encryption keys that Internet companies use to shield millions of users’ private Web communications from eavesdropping,” Declan McCullagh reports for CNET. “These demands for master encryption keys, which have not been disclosed previously, represent a technological escalation in the clandestine methods that the FBI and the National Security Agency employ when conducting electronic surveillance against Internet users.”

“If the government obtains a company’s master encryption key, agents could decrypt the contents of communications intercepted through a wiretap or by invoking the potent surveillance authorities of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act,” McCullagh reports. “Web encryption — which often appears in a browser with a HTTPS lock icon when enabled — uses a technique called SSL, or Secure Sockets Layer. ‘The government is definitely demanding SSL keys from providers,’ said one person who has responded to government attempts to obtain encryption keys. The source spoke with CNET on condition of anonymity.”

McCullagh reports, “The person said that large Internet companies have resisted the requests on the grounds that they go beyond what the law permits, but voiced concern that smaller companies without well-staffed legal departments might be less willing to put up a fight. ‘I believe the government is beating up on the little guys,’ the person said. ‘The government’s view is that anything we can think of, we can compel you to do.'”

“It’s not entirely clear whether federal surveillance law gives the U.S. government the authority to demand master encryption keys from Internet companies. ‘That’s an unanswered question,’ said Jennifer Granick, director of civil liberties at Stanford University’s Center for Internet and Society. ‘We don’t know whether you can be compelled to do that or not,'” McCullagh reports. “‘One of the biggest problems with compelling the [private key] is it gives you access to not just the target’s communications, but all communications flowing through the system, which is exceedingly dangerous,’ said Stanford’s Granick.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: United States Constitution, Amendment IV:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. – Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759

Join The Electronic Frontier Foundation in calling for a full congressional investigation here.

Related articles:
Apple, Google, dozens of others push Obama administration to disclose U.S. surveillance requests – July 19, 2013
Secret court agrees to allow Yahoo to reveal its fight against U.S. government PRISM requests – July 16, 2013
How Microsoft handed U.S. NSA, FBI, CIA access to users’ encrypted video, audio, and text communications – July 11, 2013
DuckDuckGo search engine surges 33% in wake of PRISM scandal – June 20, 2013
Yahoo: Since December 2012, we have received up to 13,000 U.S. gov’t requests for customer data – June 18, 2013
Apple: Since December 2012, we have received U.S. gov’t requests for customer data for up to 10,000 accounts – June 17, 2013
Nine companies, including Apple, tied to PRISM, Obama to be smacked with class-action lawsuit – June 12, 2013
U.S. lawmakers urge review of ‘Prism’ domestic spying, Patriot Act – June 10, 2013
PRISM: Do Apple, Google, Facebook have an ethical obligation not to spy on users? – June 8, 2013
Plausible deniability: The strange and unbelievable similarities in the Apple, Google, and Facebook PRISM denials – June 7, 2013
Google’s Larry Page on government eavesdropping: ‘We had not heard of a program called PRISM until yesterday’ – June 7, 2013
Seecrypt app lets iPhone, Android users keep voice calls, text messages away from carriers, government eyes and ears – June 7, 2013
Obama administration defends PRISM data-collection as legal anti-terrorism tool – June 7, 2013
Facebook, Google, Yahoo join Apple in sort-of denying PRISM involvement – June 7, 2013
Report: Intelligence program gives U.S. government direct access to customer data on Apple servers; Apple denies – June 6, 2013


  1. To say that the “Obama Administration” is doing this . . . Rather than “The Federal Government”. . . is pure political propaganda! Do you really pretend that the Bush Administration, the Romney Administration or the Palin Administration would propect us from this?

    1. Actually Bush No, Romney not likely unless it was explained thoroughly, but oddly enough, Palin I’d say definitely. Of the 3 she is the most ardent anti-intrusive government politician. While the left attacked and slandered the woman like rabid dogs on meat, her views were classical liberal, not the much that passes for conservatism today, or the slop that passes for liberalism.

    2. The Obama administration is doing this, and Bush did it before him. Wile I do blame Bush, he’s not currently president and Obama is. It’s classic neo-liberalism to blame all the problems under a liberal leader on the previous conservative leader. I don’t buy it. Obama is to blame here personally, and if whoever follows him continues to stomp on the constitution then I will blame that person then.

        1. We can go back a bit further can’t we? I’m an old-timey Truman-era Democrat and well aware of the fiascos of Central America, Indochina, Iran, et al. But the propaganda and disingenuousness worked for attacks on the Philapines, the annexation of Texas, the Revolution itself.

          I’m lucky to be alive at my age, but am not surprised that the age-old argument of individual vs. collective security rages on. The US govt’s structure is patterned on the Roman Republic which never “functioned” in a way that made anyone happy. At least we don’t have open murder of Tribunes, Senators, and Consuls occurring on a monthly basis. Yet.

          1. Excuse me, but those machinations of the past DID NOT involve the wholesale invasion of the privacy of every private citizen of the US and are not of the same caliber of violation of our civil right as protected by our Constitution. No where near. Your attempt to trivialize it won’t excuse the Obama administration from taking advantage of very poor choices made in passing legislation that was ill considered (I won’t say ill thought out, because I think it was, and is accomplishing the purposes intended for it) before passage in the fear and panic following the attacks of 9/11. Too much “baby being thrown out with the bath water” in these huge bills Congress passes without reading, hearings, discussing, or reasoning. Even Bush did not abuse the Act as this administration has. . . although we cannot know what might have been under alternate winners of the Presidency. I, for one, do not think that anyone else but Obama would be ignoring both Congress and the Courts to the extent that this president does.

    3. Maybe you forgot, but Obama has been President for FIVE years. He had a full Democrat Congress for his first two. He could have repealed the Patriot Act which he said he would. Bush used it primarily to listen in on suspected terrorists. Obama expanded the Patriot act instead of repealing it, and he uses it primarily to target political opponents. I remember Democrats screaming about the Patriot Act, now they all love it.

    1. That’s a really good point. Creating and leaving backdoors for that kind of access ESPECIALLY FOR THE GOVERNMENT is insane. If there is a hole, someone will get through it and I guarantee they won’t have our best interests at heart.

    1. It does not have to he is fully responsible for the major policies and actions of the entire executive branch of government. He is entirely and personally responsible for this.

    2. You conservitwits are missing the point that all MDN has to do is chum the waters by simply putting Obama’s name in a headline and you all come swimming in for lunch. You don’t have to cast a wide net here to get you blowhards to start prattling about shit you know nothing about.

      “Ahh the world is ending and its the fault of everyone who doesn’t share my ideology!!”


      “I’m informed and know everything there is to know about complex layered issues that entire teams of people and specialists cant figure out… BUT I know it cause I read 2 blogs, a wiki, and saw a guy on TV talk about it who in no way is biased!! and I use my omnipotent knowledge to argue on forums instead of actually trying effect change in any way other than telling people I don’t know they are wrong from the comfort of my personal computer.”

      I laugh at you morons every day.

      1. And you seem to be ignorant of the world around you, listening to the mainstream media that omits some of the most important news you need to know. For example:

        ■ In all of 2012, the network evening newscasts devoted only 61 seconds to talking about how ObamaCare’s mandates, regulations and new taxes would hurt small businesses.

        ■ For 16 days, the network evening news shows refused to report unprecedented HHS regulations that would violate the conscience of religious organizations by insisting they provide free contraception, including abortion-inducing drugs. The major media ignored massive demonstrations against these regulations, giving them not an inch of newspaper space or a second of airtime, despite 100s of thousands turning out in peaceful protest yet exaggerate small groups of a few dozen into thousands when it supported Obama’s agenda. Only alternative media provided these religious freedom demonstrations coverage.

        ■ After President Obama unilaterally declared a “compromise” on religious freedom, the networks acted as if all was solved, with ABC and NBC utterly ignoring a massive lawsuit against the administration to overturn the rules (CBS gave it just 19 seconds).

        ■ The evening newscasts never mentioned official Congressional Budget Office reports showing ObamaCare would cost up to 6 million workers their health insurance, belying President Obama’s promise that “if you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care

        ■ None of the Big Three evening newscasts mentioned the Fast and Furious scandal, in which guns were permitted to reach Mexican drug gangs that resulted in the deaths of over 300 innocent Mexican citizens and two US Law Enforcement agents, until June 12, when the House of Representatives was about to approve contempt charges against Attorney General Eric Holder for failing to cooperate with the investigating committee. Instead of treating the administration’s stonewalling as a major scandal, the networks abandoned the story after just a couple of days.

        Who’re the morons? Those of us who dig out the actual facts, find the raw data and make conclusions based on them, or those who choose to remain blissfully ignorant and believe what they’re being spoon fed then having their chins wiped. . . apparently like you,
        who believe that wiser and smarter people—”entire teams of people and specialists”—work for the administration and the news media to take care of and inform you.

        I wish I had your faith in politicians and government employees. . . But I’ve met too many of the modern variety of both to put any faith in either.

  2. So you’re not concerned about abuse of government power, unnecessary surveillance of American citizens, the whole 1984 scenario come to life? Wanting to maintain the freedoms that we have warrants some kind of Fox News slur from you?

    First of all, most people who slur Fox New don’t watch it. I only wish they’d go deeply into this kind of stuff. The big difference in FOX NEWS and all the others, is that FOX doesn’t bend over backwards to support the President.

    Imagine just for a moment that the intelligence agencies are free to grab all the data they want from all of our electronic communications. In 2016 two people will be running for President.

    What sort of information will the intelligence agencies have on these two people by then. Information on them, their friends, their acquaintances, their spouses, lovers, children, lover’s children, the fact that they give to causes some might not approve of… all sorts of nasty stuff. The Intelligence guys can control the elections with their “metadata.”

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