An Algorithmic and Social Introduction to Computer Science (CSC-105 2000S)

Should the government have the right to access encrypted files?


The bottom line is National Security. Whenever the nation's security is at compromise, even if it is just a suspicion, it is the government's responsibility to ensure the safety of the collective. With this in mind, what about a violation of privacy? Furthermore, a good example of what can result from excessive governmental suspicion can be seen during the Cold War and MaCarthyism. On the other hand, one could say that the people who argue for less government intervention and more privacy are the people that have something to hide.

I would have to say that if people are in fact sending bomb-making recipes through encrypted files, I would want the government to have access to these files and know about it.


As with just about everything, I think it all depends...on whose files they are and if any "wrongdoing" (a subjective term, of course) is suspected. I would think that something like a warrant should be needed (and probably officially is) to allow an agency of the government to access encrypted files. Of course, I suspect that agencies of the government do this all of the time (or at least seek to) without public knowledge to keep tabs on certain segments of the population. In a way it's like wiretapping, but they're supposed to have justification for doing that too. Spying on someone who you know is doing something "wrong" to catch them in the act is one thing, but randomly looking over everyone's shoulder until they do something wrong is another thing entirely. Would it prevent crime? Probably. Would it be an invasion of privacy and freedom? Definitely.

I think that it's a slippery slope - "if you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to fear," they would probably say - today encrypted files, tomorrow, who knows? I have no illusions about the extent to which we are all tracked everywhere we go (i.e. security cameras, credit card transactions, etc.), and I don't think that the world needs to get any more Orwellian than it already is. I am willing to sacrifice a certain amount of safety, security, and predictability for personal freedom.


no. the government shouldn't have the right to access encrypted files. why should it? for security purposes? isn't that somehow a violation of rights and privacy? i must admit that i'm very wary of the government and all this code cracking and language translating. i guess i'm speaking about the nsa in specific now. i think i must be one of those x-file-ish people who believes the government has way too much information about us as it is. i don't see any reason to give them any more blanket justifications for delving into the private lives of its citizens. especially when there is such high potential for such information to be


I think the government should have limited rights to access encrypted files, and only in cases where a strong threat to national security is posed, or one that has accumulated significant evidence to the effect that encrypted files contain information which is used for criminal activity, or is evidence of such activity. Otherwise, it seems like a violation of a individual's privacy to access encrypted files. People should have the techonogical rights comparable to those they have for physical privacy.


Unless they have some legitimate reason to access such files, I would have to say no. But there are cases in which such access should probably be allowed. Situations which I could possibly see such access being legitimate might be if, for example, they were investigating a hacker for some alleged cyber-crime, or maybe a corporation for alleged tax evasion or alleged trade violations or something. It seems, as with other forms of search and seizure, the government's access to encrypted files would be justified, at least legally, so long as there was probable cause. There's obviously a privacy issue, because, after all, people encrypt files for a reason. But as with other personal effects, like diaries or financial records, if such items are relevant to the investigation of an alleged crime, and legal authorites have gone through the proper channels and obtained a warrant, then I don't see why encrypted files wouldn't be fair game long with everything else.


The question goes beyond the issue of encrypted files to the obligations of the government. Should the government play an active role in society or should the government mediate when called upon?

The potential benefits of government intervention in society include protection of the individual from external forces, creation of a living environment suitable to individual growth and development, stability and security (both domestic and international), justice, enforcement of contract, and many more. The potential harms of government intervention in society centers around a tyrannical government dominating the people.

With respect to encryption, there is a critical distinction between international and domestic transmission. The government of the United States is of the opinion that it can, with greater legitimacy, abuse the rights of other persons in other nations than it can abuse the rights of American citizens. I find that last statement a bit offensive, however, it is the way the government operates. With respect to domestic issues, the government of the United States is limited by the Bill of Rights. Accessing encrypted files may be a violation of a citizen's civil liberties and therefore the government should not access the files from the perspective of a legalistic paradigm.

Another question is, is it legitimate for anyone to access encrypted files other than the intended receptant? The freedom of speech goes beyond the right to voice one's opinion, it extends to the right of silence or to speak to a limited audience.

Finally, what is the government able to do with the encrypted files? If the government responds by launching missiles, the government should not access encrypted files.


I think that someone needs to have access to encrypted files, and that would most likely be a special branch of the government. I just think that it is necessary to have someone or something able to check over and review the content and the material going onto the web or whatever information is being encrypted, for security reasons and to keep them within the law. Exceptions would have to be made for home/personal computers (i.e. the gov't could not access anyone's computer files). i'm basically just talking about the public organizations and companies that need to be monitored


In short, no. The only time I can possibly think of the government being able to access encrypted files is when the NSA has probable cause for deeming the information in that file to be subversive to our government, country, or freedoms. I won't go into what the CIA does and doesn't have the right to do with files of other nation-states, but as far as files of American citizens go, no. The government is only an extension of the population and is not more important than any citizen; it is very important that we keep things this way as the information age moves farther along. We have a right to encrypt whatever we want, and if they have a problem with it, they'll have to find a few legislators willing to end their careers by supporting a bill which takes away the privacy of their constituents.


Because the question is so vague, my first answer is no. As soon as I say that, though, all the questions I have about the question pop up. Whose encrypted files? When? Why? And what would they do with them? In general, I would still say that the government does not have a right to look at someone's files only because they are encrypted. If there is serious belief that someone may be participating in illegal activity, then only after getting a search warrant should they be able to look at the files in question. But encryption does not automatically mean subversiveness, and our rights to privacy should entitle us to encrypt whatever we want without the government breathing down our backs.


I don't think that the government should have the right to invade encrypted files. I can understand that if there was reasonable suspicion of illegal activity by an individual, there may be a need to access these files. I sort of equate encrypted files with a safe depsoit box. The government would not be able to access it without a warrant, when there was reasonable proof for suspicion. I don't think the government should be able to access private files prematurely. Maybe a warrant of some kind could be issued for encrypted files, if what's on someone's hard drive is judged to be private, material property.

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