Where the Wild Things Are: Encryption, Police Access & the User

Presented at ShmooCon XI (2015), Unknown date/time (Unknown duration)

The government, frightened by companies' move to enable encryption by default and/or make encryption easier to use, sparked discussion about the use of a "golden key" or implementation of backdoor access for law enforcement to decrypt an electronic device when the user refuses to do so. Announcements by Apple and Google that devices would expand the scope data encrypted as to prevent the companies from handing over decrypted data to police officers armed with a valid warrant stimulated this debate, but the government's interest in weakening crypto is nothing new. It prompts the question: how should encryption, the user, and the law function?

This talk will briefly discuss the basics of encryption and the law and examine how "[e]ncryption is an altogether different beast." It will also incorporate recent research on how and why users implement encryption to discuss the role encryption plays in the probable cause analysis. Simply, does implementing encryption play any role in determining if there is a reasonable basis for believing that a crime may have been committed? Finally, the talk will discuss whether the government can legally and practically be able to decrypt data without forcing an individual to turn over a key.


  • Whitney Merrill
    Whitney Merrill (@wbm312) is an attorney and graduate student in computer science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign specializing in information security, privacy, and Internet law. Her research focuses on the legal and usability issues surrounding encryption and information security. In 2014, Whitney co-founded and co-organized the Crypto & Privacy Village at DEF CON, and previously she interned at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Similar Presentations: