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Encryption, Bad Bills, and Ripple Effects: How Riana Pfefferkorn Protects the Internet

Encryption 11 August 2023

Q: Tell us more about your work on encryption.

A: I try to study and analyze bills that might—either overtly or covertly—have a negative impact on the availability of strong encryption that has no back doors or other intentional weaknesses in it. This applies to both devices and communications.

After spending time in private practice as a lawyer working on a lot of online consumer privacy issues, I developed an interest in the intersection of technology, law, and civil liberties. Being at Stanford enables me to work at that intersection.

My work since coming to Stanford has tried to focus on encryption policy, which has continually been under threat from around the world.

Q: Why is it so important to be scrutinizing bills that affect encryption?

A: We’re in a place where almost all traffic on the web is encrypted. It’s terrific. That said, it’s kind of a whack-a-mole job trying to keep track of the bills that still threaten an open, free, and secure Internet in different parts of the world at a given time.

Q: Which bills are you concerned about right now? Why?

A: In the U.S., it’s the STOP CSAM Act and the Kids Online Safety Act. It’s the ongoing debates over child sex abuse regulation in the European Union. And finally, it’s the Online Safety Bill in the UK.

The biggest threat is democratic governments around the world using child safety as a rationale for proposing legislation that could very easily have the effect of making it illegal to offer strong end-to-end encryption to users in those jurisdictions—and by consequence, potentially in other jurisdictions as well.

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