In Lieu of Encryption, Congress’ Communications Might Be Hurd

The rapid spread of free, strong and user-friendly encryption has panicked some members of Congress who have gone so far as to offer absurd proposals to try to ban strong encryption outright. But while those ignorant congresscritters attempt to put the encryption genie back in the bottle, a pair of their more rational colleagues are urging a different approach. According to The Hill, Congressmen Will Hurd (R-TX) and Ted Lieu (D-CA) sent a letter around to their fellow representatives last week urging them to protect their communications by using better passwords and using encryption when possible.

Most members of Congress conduct a lot of their official business just like the rest of us – on their smartphones. Those who deal with the really secret, classified stuff, like members of the Intelligence Committees, have access to heavily encrypted phones. But a majority of members spend a lot of their time on regular old Androids, iPhones and even Blackberries.

The technology to lock Congressional phones and encrypt their communications so that outsiders can’t listen in is increasingly free and easy to use. But just like most of us, most congressmen don’t use these tools, leaving themselves open to easy data breaches by any reasonably skilled hacker.

There’s plenty of data you might find on a congressman’s phone that is quite valuable despite not being classified (and, conversely, not all classified information is valuable). For example, having the latest info on negotiations on a big bill would greatly help a corporate lobbyist. Having access to a member’s personal calendar and being able to track their location would be pretty revealing as well. Being able to listen in on fundraising calls would be valuable opposition research for a political opponent.

Congressmen Lieu demonstrated just how easy it is to breach one of these phones on “60 Minutes” this April, when a bunch of hackers (by invitation) quickly hacked his phone remotely and played back conversations they had intercepted. They likewise showed tracking data on where Rep. Lieu had been.

It should be obvious that domestic and foreign interests should not have access to that kind of surveillance of our lawmakers’ communications. It should be equally obvious how this same hacking can be used for corporate espionage and other private sector exploits.

Hopefully Reps. Hurd and Lieu succeed in making their colleagues practice better data security. Perhaps, in the process, more of Congress might understand why that same data security is important for the rest of us to have as well.

This article originally appeared on Conservative Review.

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Josh Withrow

Josh Withrow is the former Director of Public Policy at Free the People. He transitioned from studying medieval history to modern policy, only to find nothing has changed.

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