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French Government Rejects Hardware Backdoor Amendment

Axelle Lamaire, French Minister of Digital Affairs

A few days ago an amendment to a proposed "Digital Republic" bill tried to ban strong encryption in France by forcing equipment manufacturers to build in decryption capability so that their devices could always be decrypted upon request.

The amendment was written by a group of 18 politicians from the French Republican party, but it was rejected by the French government. Speaking on behalf of the government, Axelle Lemaire, who is the Minister for Digital Affairs and has also been promoting the main Digital Republic bill, said that the amendment would’ve brought "vulnerability by design" into products and everyone’s data would be less protected. The backdoor would allow other bad actors easier access to people’s data, even if the law enforcement’s intentions were good.

She also argued that having to build these vulnerabilities into products would damage the companies’ revenues as well as their credibility. Lemaire reminded everyone of the recent backdoor found in Juniper’s firewalls, which could only exist because the NSA backdoored a cryptographic standard a few years earlier -- one that Juniper ended up using.

Lemaire said that allowing intelligence agencies to put vulnerabilities in products would lead to situations that are detrimental to the whole community. She also noted that Netherlands recently showed its commitment to encryption, implying that this is the direction France should go, too.

The minister added that the Republicans were right to participate in the debate about the digital French republic, but their proposal is not the right solution. The Republicans’ vice president withdrew the amendment but continued to defend the substance of the argument, that law enforcement needs access to encrypted devices.

Lately, we’ve seen that some of the countries initially proposing backdoors and a ban of strong encryption or anonymity tools, including the U.S., France, and UK, have started to back down a little on this issue. However, it remains to be seen if the issue will be settled for good soon or whether they’ll keep asking for encryption backdoors whenever there’s a new opportunity to do so.

Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware. You can follow him at @lucian_armasu. 

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