The Washington Post said technology companies will have to create a digital key that can open any locked device to obtain text messages or other content, but divide the key into pieces so no one group could use it without the cooperation of other parties.
Michael S. Rogers, director of the NSA, recently said during a speech at Princeton University: “I don’t want a back door, want a front door. And I want the front door to have multiple locks. Big locks.”
Of course this sets the NSA against privacy advocates and the tech industry who say such a key would be unconstitutional.
The split-key approach floated by Rogers, for instance, requires a complicated system to allocate the keys, deliver them to each involved party, recombine them when a legitimate court order is issued, and destroy the key once it was used. If anything goes wrong all the guarantees are pointless.
The White House is looking at other ideas too. One alternative would have a judge direct a company to set up a mirror account so that law enforcement officials conducting a criminal investigation could read text messages shortly after they are sent.
To obtain encrypted photos, the judge could order the company to back up the suspect’s data to a server while the phone is turned on and its contents are unencrypted.