by jantzl on October 1, 2020

This week I'm writing about something in politics that may not seem like it will affect healthcare, but it will. There is a bill in progress called the "Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act." The purpose of the bill is to create backdoors into encryption to make it easy for law enforcement to access encrypted data. The bill sounds like it is about crime and law enforcement, but it is much more significant.

Creating backdoors into anything makes the security of that thing weaker. You could think of it this way - When I come home with my arms full of groceries, it is sometimes annoying to fish for my keys and unlock the door and struggle to pull it open and lumber in with my groceries. I could make it easier by just leaving the door open when I go to the grocery store. Then when I get home, walk right in with all my groceries. But I trade security for convenience. I could do that probably one time, or a few times, with no problems, but if I make it a practice, sooner or later, someone is going to notice and realize they could pretty easily come by and walk away with a laptop.

Encryption, yes, protects communications between people with nefarious plans. It also protects all the information we care about - banking data, personal communications, and yes, health information. If you work in medicine, you are aware that health information is valuable data. So yes, creating backdoors for law enforcement makes it potentially initially easier to break into criminal communications, but it also makes it easier for anyone to break into every other encrypted thing. And guess what? Commercial encryption algorithms are not the only ways to encrypt something. Someone who seriously wants to coordinate criminal activity can and will invest in making their own encrypted communications. They already have.

How does this affect medicine? Well, certainly, the transmission of patient records. It may contribute to the continued relevance of the fax machine. All those cool encrypted chat tools that medical teams use - if a medical team can use it, so can a criminal team, and it will need a backdoor. Once it has a backdoor, it's just a matter of time before it's hacked.

There are many important movements and issues in our government today. This is also one that affects the safety, security, and health of many people. If you feel so moved, please contact your representative today and let them know that this is a bad bill for medicine.