Ex-NSA Deputy Director Wants Coded Messages for All

Former National Security Agency deputy director Chris Inglis.

Former National Security Agency deputy director Chris Inglis. Charles Dharapak/AP File Photo

Featured eBooks

The Government's Artificial Intelligence Reality
What’s Next for Federal Customer Experience
Cloud Smarter

However, techies, entrepreneurs and the feds should first be hashing out its application, to defuse tensions over the prospect of coded messages for all, Chris Inglis said.

The former National Security Agency deputy director wants encryption on more consumer technologies.

However, techies, entrepreneurs and the feds should first be hashing out its application, to defuse tensions over the prospect of coded messages for all, Chris Inglis said.

"We need to see it flourish in broader society," he said of encryption, "but I don’t think that we've yet given the technologists the charge to say this is what we want to achieve," for the protection of privacy, collective security, and the right to pursue global business vitality.

"What do I think personally about encryption? I think it’s essential and I think that we have to actually apply this as a public good, not something reserved for the government," said Inglis, speaking Tuesday afternoon at the Billington Cybersecurity International Summit.

Today, Apple and the U.S. government disagree over how to incorporate 18th-century constitutional rights into modern-day digital communications.

The FBI in February obtained a court order compelling iThing developers to circumvent the encryption features on a San Bernardino terrorist's iPhone. The bureau last month abandoned that one legal battle, after saying it found another method to unlock the dead shooter's device.

But the encryption dispute has not gone away, as underscored by Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging service now encoding 1 billion people’s texts, photos and calls.

"Apple, I think in a very principled way," has taken the position to "favor individual privacy, individual rights, over perhaps collective security, in a world where you have to make choices," said Inglis, now a cybersecurity researcher at the U.S. Naval Academy. "I’m not sure I yet believe that, but when we think about encryption as one of many tools, that’s where the argument has gotten."

Government officials, in their best moments, said Inglis, would say their obligation is to defend all three rights.

"Those three things are, I think, equal great goods," he said, including security and an individual's ability to run a profitable enterprise internationally, not just on a national basis.

The unanswered question is “whether we as a society have decided that those things are three great goods strategically up front," Inglis added. 

The business strategy at Web giant Google, by contrast, relies on algorithms that peer at private citizens' digital messages to target online advertising. And the world has not taken up pitchforks against the Mountain View, California firm for spying.

"Write a note to somebody about, 'I love brass doorknobs,’” on Gmail, Inglis offered up as an at-home experiment. “My bet is, within 15 seconds,” screen ads will pop up for “every manufacturer of brass doorknobs on the East Coast.”

This word-surveillance is Google’s business model, and is accepted, according to the consent agreements that customers check off when they open a Gmail account. What this proposition demonstrates is “there is a way to actually create an architecture end-to-end such that you have exceptional access that we have not as a mass of people decried as a sin against humanity," Inglis said.

Google, for its part, backed Apple in the San Bernardino case by filing a court brief on the iPhone maker’s behalf.