Press Releases

Conyers: Too Much Surveillance Will Hinder Innovation and Cost Jobs

Washington, DC, February 17, 2011

Today, at the House Judiciary Crime Subcommittee Committee Hearing on “Going Dark: Lawful Electronic Surveillance in the Face of New Technologies,”  Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) emphasized the dangers of legislating new requirements desired by law enforcement on all communications companies.  Mr. Conyers criticized the possibility that the administration may propose that all communications providers, including Internet based companies, deploy mechanisms in their systems to allow for intercepts of communications.

Below is Mr. Conyers’ opening statement from the hearing:

     The issue of law enforcement’s surveillance capabilities is extremely critical. If the FBI and other agencies are having problems in this area, we need to hear what they are.

      While I welcome today’s hearing, I want to raise a note of caution as we consider what to do next.  As we begin the process of examining this issue, I am concerned about reports that the administration already may be developing an extensive legislative proposal.  To require all communications systems to contain mechanisms allowing law enforcement agencies to intercept and view or hear these messages would have far-reaching consequences. There are important issues related to national security, innovation, and economic growth at stake.

     We must be concerned about national security issues. Legislatively forcing telecommunications providers to build “back doors” into their systems to allow for surveillance by law enforcement will also provide opportunities for hackers and foreign adversaries to gain access to these systems.  This is not a theoretical concern.  We know that in 2004 mechanisms in a cell phone switch in Greece designed to allow lawful intercepts were exploited by an attacker who listened in on cell phone conversations of government officials, including the prime minister.

     We do not want to create vulnerabilities in our communications systems that would allow cyber criminals and terrorists to attack us. 

     As the director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, told the House Intelligence Committee on February 10, “The cyber environment provides unprecedented opportunities for adversaries to target the U.S. due to our reliance on information systems.”

     In a time when we are struggling to find ways to enhance cyber security, we must avoid self-inflicted harm.  We must also be concerned about economic issues.  Our economic growth depends in large part on the continued expansion of ways that we use the Internet.

     The Internet was designed as a decentralized system of communication that utilizes many pathways for communications to travel before they reach their destination. We should resist calls to impose technical requirements on Internet-based communications companies that would force them to centralize their means of providing service and likely reduce the ability of some to provide these services at all. Requiring back doors in every conceivable communications system may ultimately make them less secure and less desirable for consumers in a worldwide marketplace.

     Finally, we must be concerned about providing obstacles to innovation.  Imposing technological requirements on the real stars of the Internet – those operating out of their garage, basement or college dorm room – would erect a barrier to the development of new products that fuel the expansion of the Internet and enrich our lives and businesses. Think of the different communications mechanisms we have available to us now, and how amazed we are at how these options have developed.

     We do not know how communications technology will continue to evolve, and we have to be careful not to lock innovators into a model that looks like today’s technology. We must keep all of these considerations in mind as we begin this important discussion. I welcome our witnesses and look forward to hearing from them.