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Lawful Hacking: Toward a Middle-Ground Solution to the Going Dark Problem

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Technical Report

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Naval Postgraduate School Monterey United States

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This thesis examines the ongoing debate between law enforcement and the intelligence communities on one side, and the technology industry and privacy rights groups on the other, over the going dark problem. Going dark is a phenomenon created by ubiquitous use of end-to-end encryption over communication devices and Internet platforms, rendering those communications warrant-proof. End-to-end encryption means that only the sender and receiver of the message can read it, and no one in between. Even with a properly executed warrant or subpoena, law enforcement and intelligence agencies are unable to access the data they need because that data was encrypted. This thesis explores the historical, political and legislative developments that contributed to the rise of encryption in recent years, as well as constitutional doctrines that may be relevant to the public debate over possible policy solutions. Through the policy options analysis method, this thesis identifies lawful hacking as a middle-ground solution that policymakers should adopt in the short term. It also recommends that the U.S. government initiate a public education campaign to gain public support for some form of regulation concerning encryption in the future. The fundamental issue here is not only about the tension between privacy and security. The issue is also about who should make decisions with broad implications for the collective security elected officials or the technology industry.

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  • Computer Systems Management and Standards

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