- The Washington Times - Friday, November 13, 2015

The Obama administration may have punted for now on the topic of encryption, but Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said he’ll ensure Americans can securely protect their digital data if he’s elected president.

Speaking in Des Moines, Iowa, on Thursday, Mr. Paul, a Republican, said he won’t ban encryption if he wins next November’s election, cementing his stance with respect to a hot-button issue that widened a rift between Silicon Valley and Washington this year before the White House ultimately decided last month not to push for a legislative solution.

“The head of the FBI came out with this recently. He says, ‘Oh, we’re going to ban encryption.’ And it’s like we want to build a backdoor into Facebook and a backdoor into Apple products,” the presidential hopeful said at the Yahoo Digital Democracy conference this week. “A backdoor means that the government can look at your stuff, look at your information, your conversations. … The problem is, is that the moment you build an opening — and I’m not an expert on coding or anything — but the moment you give a vulnerability to a code that someone can get into your source code, not only can the government, but so can your enemies, so can foreign governments.”

“What’s China going to say? ‘Apple, you want to do business with us, you’ll have to give us an opening so we can watch,’ ” Mr. Paul added. “I don’t think we want that.”

Citing the increasing availability of robust, easy-to-use encryption and its effect on criminal investigations and counterterrorism probes, the Justice Department this year urged companies like Apple and Google to rethink the capabilities of their products before deciding last month to put their efforts on hold.

“The United States government is actively engaged with private companies to ensure they understand the public safety and national security risks that result from malicious actors’ use of their encrypted products and services. However, the administration is not seeking legislation at this time,” James Comey, the director of the FBI, testified before the Senate in October, much to the delight of computer security experts and civil libertarians.

They said banning encryption or forcing companies to weaken their technology posed surefire risks with respect to digital privacy and the functionality of the Internet.

“I don’t think we want to … say we cannot have encryption or build openings,” Mr. Paul said at Thursday’s event. “I think we need to do the opposite. We need to let the marketplace develop where we try to keep the government out of our affairs.”

That opinion, however, is hardly shared among other candidates vying for the Republican Party’s nod. Mr. Paul squared off with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on the topic earlier this year. At Thursday’s event, Mr. Paul said that a “learning problem” was keeping Mr. Christie from understanding “that you can use the Fourth Amendment and still get terrorists.”

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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