There are many great arguments to protect truly private communications from a human rights perspective, and specifically through a Constitutional lens -- restoring the privacy of having a conversation in your living room and having your personal records stay personal are core first and fourth amendment rights which have suffered greatly in the digital age.
My work takes me around the world to support journalists, human rights activists, and a wide variety of amazing people working to improve the world. They are all facing incredible threats posed by powerful actors. These adversaries use malware, hacking, and all forms of digital attacks to compromise the networks of activists.
Open source, trusted, strong cryptographic tools -- and increasingly, trusted commercial systems such as Google's -- are their only available defense, in situations where failure can include targeted harassment, indefinite imprisonment, torture, and even death.
Encryption saves lives.
Undermining this last line of defense by forcing "back doors" or other "special access" is a failed model - from recent examples of the TSA's secret luggage locks now being available for to older, equally failed models trying to lock people out from playing DVDs in the 90s or the failed attempt at the clipper chip to force back doors at the hardware level. It's hard to accept a narrative of "we can do better" when over 20 million people are in the process of being notified that intensely private information used to provide security clearances was hacked .
Back-doored encryption is insecure, and cannot be made secure.
It's insecure from a technical perspective, from a social perspective (who will watch the watcher?), and from a political perspective (if the US can do this, why not any government? ). Worse, it will not prevent terrorists from using communication methods outside the reach of law enforcement - indeed, the operational security of the recent Paris attack relied on unencrypted SMS messaging, and even where these terrorists use encryption, there is a focus their usage of non-US tools regardless.
However, forcing in back doors does directly harm the lives of activists around the world working to improve lives, protect free speech, advance human rights, and advocate for democracy world-wide.
We have to reflect on this and decide who we want to help.
Photo via Private Internet Access