Defying Other Government Officials, the Federal Trade Commission’s Chief Technologist Strongly Recommends Encryption to Everyone

Some government officials and presidential candidates have recently been quoted as saying that encryption by private individuals is a bad thing because it hinders law enforcement officers from snooping in citizens’ private files and messages. Ashkan Soltani, Chief Technologist for the Federal Trade Commission, has posted an article about his recent experience showing that encryption has far more uses than just law enforcement concerns.

Soltani had the misfortune of having a personal laptop stolen. He was smart enough to enable disk encryption when he first obtained the laptop. Entire disk encryption is an important step to protect the information stored on the hard disk from unwanted access by criminals, employers, or other actors (with the exception of very sophisticated adversaries). He also set a firmware password which is an end-user control that essentially prevents the machine from being booted up or reset without knowing the password.

As a result, the thief was unable to boot the laptop, keeping all of Soltani’s private information from falling into the hands of unknown people.

Now for the best part of the story: the thief (or perhaps the person he sold it to) brought the laptop into an Apple store for assistance in booting the “defective” machine. Local police had already notified all the Apple stores in the vicinity about the unbootable laptop. The Apple store notified the police and they got involved.

Details may be found in the Federal Trade Commission blog at

While a few officials may have short-sighted opinions of encryption, we all need to look at the “big picture.” Encryption protects the private information of governments, corporations, and private individuals alike. It locks out identity thieves and others bent on stealing from you. Once in a while, encryption even ASSISTS law enforcement officials in finding criminals. That sounds like a good use for encryption.

Is your private information encrypted?

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