I’ve done work looking at the historical trajectory of U.S. encryption policy debates in the United States, and the unintended consequences of privacy-based critiques of surveillance. For this project, I conducted qualitative content analysis of 112 Congressional documents from 1993-2015 (77 separate statements on the Congressional record, and 55 Congressional hearings).
I found that, although privacy advocates succeeded in stopping federal legislation which would have created “backdoors” to encryption algorithms in cell phones produced for purchase in the United States, there were some unintended consequences of these actions. Early in the 1990s, a coalition of privacy advocates and market representatives formed to oppose the Clipper Chip and related key escrow and key recovery proposals. They mobilized two main discourses in their opposition: First, the market liberalization discourse relied on free-market, laissez-faire language to advocate for deregulating the IT sector, allowing emerging tech firms to innovate free of government intervention, including in developing new encryption algorithms that would protect consumer privacy, secure the financial sector, and otherwise help American IT firms to dominate the world market. The second discourse was one of government skepticism, in which some members of the coalition voiced their concerns about the federal government’s ability to effectively and securely run a key recovery program. In this case, the market was positioned as a logical alternative: they could access their customer’s information if necessary, with proper government authorization. Ultimately, I argue, the discursive framing and policy trajectory of encryption regulation in the early 1990s set the foundation for the private-public cooperation in breaking encryption algorithms and providing government access to consumer data in the private sector – practices revealed in the Edward Snowden leaks in 2013.
You can find the published paper here. A list of the Congressional documents used in my analysis are also available at that link. (Rider, 2017. “The Privacy Paradox: How Market Privacy Facilitates Government Surveillance.” Information, Communication & Society pp. 1-17)
As a research assistant for Dr. Norma Möllers on a project funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, called “Cybersecurity and the Making of ‘Digital Territory’”, I am working on pushing my past work on encryption further. Dr. Möllers and I are comparing discourses on cybersecurity between the European Union, Germany, and the United States in order to tease out how digital territory is constructed while strengthening national borders.