As the FBI and the technology industry spar over the spread of strong encryption standards to consumer devices and services, federal law-enforcement officials have made the case that unbreakable encryption would be a danger to national security, locking away the communications of critical suspects from agents who would be unable to prevent or prosecute crimes or terror attacks.
The tech industry, however, argues that consumers want better security and privacy and that a weaker encryption standard would be a huge economic hit to U.S. companies, because consumers would shift to apps and services with strong encryption made overseas.
But companies have not had an easy way of putting a finger on the economic effect of encryption—until now.
A paper released Monday by a pair of researchers at the Niskanen Center, a libertarian think tank and advocacy organization, examined the need for and benefits of encryption.
While the researchers were unable to offer a single number approximating the net worth of encryption, they argue that it is the foundation for an enormously valuable Internet economy—made up of sectors like online banking, e-commerce, and R&D—which they say could not survive without it.