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ACLU to Congress: Encrypt Your Own Calls and Texts!

Photo of US Capitol with radio waves in sky
Photo of US Capitol with radio waves in sky
Chris Soghoian,
Principal Technologist and Senior Policy Analyst,
ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project
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September 22, 2015

Today, the ACLU sent a letter to both the House and Senate, urging them to provide secure voice and text messaging capabilities to Members and their staff. (The Washington Post writes about our letter today.)

In recent years, computer security researchers have warned about the poor security of cellular networks, which in many cases use broken encryption technology that is several decades old. As a result, it is often trivially easy for third parties—which can include foreign intelligence services, criminals and stalkers—to intercept calls and text messages.

Although the calling and texting services provided by wireless carriers are not secure, there are a number of widely available secure communications apps that individuals and organizations can use to protect themselves. These include tools like Apple’s iMessage and Facetime, Facebook’s WhatsApp, and Open Whisper Systems’ Signal.

In the letter we sent today, to the House and Senate Sergeants at Arms—who are also responsible for Congress’ digital security—we encourage the Sergeants to provide smartphones and secure communications apps, such as Signal or FaceTime, to members and their staff. As we note in the letter:

While the civil liberties implications of vulnerable government information technology may not be readily apparent, they are nonetheless, and increasingly, significant….secure communications facilities preserve effective checks and balances in constitutional government, and insecure facilities threaten them. Those checks and balances serve as safeguards of individual liberties and civil rights. They also protect the civil liberties and privacy of the thousands of Congressional and government employees, who are themselves attractive targets of both foreign adversaries and, indeed, insider threats.

Ensuring the security of Congressional communications against all interception—whether by foreign governments, criminals, or even other branches of the U.S. government or rogue Congressional staffers — would promote both basic liberty interests and national security.

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