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AT&T CEO: Encryption Policy Is Up To Government, Apple And Others Should Stay Out Of It

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The debate over encryption backdoors on mobile devices divides the scene in two: politicians who want it on one side and tech companies that refuse it on the other.

AT&T, however, is one name from the tech pack that stands out, as the telecom corporation firmly sides with the establishment on this issue. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson notes that in his opinion, none of the tech companies should decide over the problem that might hinder the security of all citizens.

"I don't think it is Silicon Valley's decision to make about whether encryption is the right thing to do," says Stephenson in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

The comments are related to Apple's firm stance against encryption, with the company's CEO, Tim Cook, fervently opposing backdoors.

Stephenson adds that although he understands Tim Cook's decision, he believes that it should not be Apple's call whether or not their devices get a backdoor or not.

AT&T faced great criticism in the past for its enthusiastic cooperation with the National Security Agency (NSA), a governmental organism that became famous for illegally spying on American citizens.

One of the NSA's largest spying programs, codenamed Fairview, was strongly backed by AT&T. In 2011, NSA had a budget of $188.9 million for the Fairview program. In comparison, the Stormbrew program which involved Verizon only received half of that sum.

Stephenson explains that the allegations are unfounded.

"It is silliness to say there's some kind of conspiracy between the U.S. government and AT&T," he affirms.

What is more, AT&T only discloses information when it is legally obliged to do so by a court order or a warrant.

On the other side of the argument, Apple notes that once an encryption backdoor exists, there is no way to keep malevolent people from abusing it. Security vulnerabilities in mobile devices would benefit terrorists just as much as police officers.

"You can't have a backdoor that's only for the good guys," says Cook.

Hillary Clinton, who makes decisive steps towards the White House, calls for a massive "Manhattan-like project." In the politician's view, law officers should have quick access to the mobile devices of suspects.

According to insiders, the Obama administration will refrain from asking the Congress to legislate on the mandatory installment of backdoors for mobile gadgets. However, the administration will keep talking with private firms about the ups and downs of backdoor encryption.

In July 2015, a 31-page technical paper authored by 15 of the world's best encryption experts came out. The general consensus was that allowing backdoor encryption is similar to everyone leaving their keys to their homes under the doormat: sooner or later, villains will take advantage of the good purpose behind the action.

At the beginning of 2015, President Obama received [pdf] a letter signed by major names from the industry, security experts and civil rights organizations. All of those who signed the letter urged the President to keep away from deliberately weakening the security of consumer devices, as it could mean increasing fragility for the national security, as a whole.

Adobe, Apple, Cisco, CloudFlare, Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, Google, Level 3, Microsoft, Mozilla, Rackspace, Symantec, Tumblr, Twitter, and others put their signature on the letter.

Meanwhile, AT&T was one of the notable absences from the list.

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