Google’s Encryption Efforts Are Paying Off In Wake Of Snowden Leaks

Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said the company has evidence that its efforts to improve encryption in the wake of Edward Snowden leaks have worked. His remarks at BoxDev, Box’s yearly developer conference, come as law enforcement officials are criticizing encryption efforts for slowing down investigations.

In response to a question about encryption from Box CEO Aaron Levie, Schmidt said that after the Snowden leaks, his company was “very, very upset.” He joked that Google wasn’t given a heads up about the activities of the American NSA, which he noted that in slang is often called “never say anything.”

At the time of Snowden’s revelations, Schmidt was one of the first executives to suggest encryption was the only way to prevent government surveillance. He said that the company has embarked on work to bolster its encryption efforts, including at-rest encryption, and in-transit encryption. He said people previously poking into the company’s networks are “complaining” and called the rising whining “proof” that its work was effective.

In a nod to government, Schmidt did note the PATRIOT Act is a law of the land and must be followed. In his view, however, the act requires the use of a warrant, rendering mass surveillance without such individually sourced legal allowance contrary to what they call in the enterprise, “best practices.”

Levie followed up with a question regarding how the American tech industry could help other countries adopt more liberal polices towards the Internet. Schmidt called out China and Russia as particularly bad examples of nation-states that impinge upon the rights of its citizens. In the past, Schmidt has said encryption would help American tech companies to overcome censorship in China.

Google might have been quiet during the recent American debate over net neutrality, but it appears that at least its executives remain in favor of an unencumbered Internet for everyone.

The debate over encryption is not new — the private sector and the government have been at odds over security and surveillance for decades. But Schmidt’s comments today were game changing because since the Snowden leaks, we’ve largely been talking about the issue of encryption in an abstract way. Law enforcement officials from the FBI to the NSA have sounded the alarm that encryption would slow down investigations, but they never pointed to an actual instance where encryption prevented them from protecting Americans. The private sector has said we need to increase encryption to keep the government out, but until Schmidt’s comments at Box, we had no concrete evidence it was actually working.

Now that we do, it ups the ante for the encryption debate. As the June 1 deadline to reform the PATRIOT Act approaches and Congress takes up the issue of surveillance reform again, it’s certain encryption will play a role.