A couple of interesting and somewhat connected pieces of news hit the interwebs last week. The first was a United Nations’ special report on privacy which blasted new mass surveillance laws as being mostly in effective. The second was F.B.I. Director James Comey who said strong encryption makes his job more difficult.
In essence, the story lines go this way.
First, mass surveillance doesn’t work because those that authorities are attempting to catch by casting a wide net simply dive deeper, go off the grid, become more anonymous, don’t leave a trail that can easily be followed, etc. In other words, those who would do bad deeds against society and their fellow man, whether members of a large hate group or a lone wolf, become more difficult to find.
That said, mass surveillance helps to make some portion of the law abiding citizenry feel safer, knowing that someone is hunting the bad guys even if they’re going in the wrong direction.
Second, strong encryption is a growing issue, and while Director Comey avoided a request for a back door to all encryption options– a physical impossibility– he wants a dialog and a solution. That tells me he doesn’t understand the real problem but needs to keep up a public profile so it appears he’s doing his job, hamstrung though he may be.
That said, for law enforcement and mass surveillance, there is no solution to strong encryption.
The F.B.I. may want to track all of Apple’s customers wherever they may be, but it will do no good. What if the F.B.I. and congress make strong encryption illegal, or require government managed backdoor access to all encrypted files?
Never fear, dear iPhone user. That won’t work, either. Why not?
Encryption comes in many forms and from many locales. What becomes illegal in the U.S. may remain legal elsewhere, therefore, remains usable by those who need encryption to avoid the aforementioned mass surveillance and backdoor access to encrypted files.
Encryption is a toothpaste that won’t go back into the tube, folks.
The bad guys can roll their own encryption without backdoor access. So, how will the F.B.I. and others know which encrypted files are being used by good guys and which are being used by bad guys? Back to the mass surveillance of every Mac, iPhone, and iPad (and every other device that the great unwashed masses use instead of the most secure devices). If the government had access to all your files via a backdoor, then you wouldn’t be safe from either government overreach or from criminals, hackers, terrorists, and others who could and probably would steal that backdoor key to gain access.
Steal the key?
Uh huh. Because the government has such a great track record at keeping its secrets under lock and key.
Kudos to you if you own an Apple product because you’re among the few that the aforementioned government agency, hackers, criminals, and terrorists have less access that others.
Director Comey on privacy:
We all have a reasonable expectation of privacy in our homes, cars and devices. Government can’t invade them without good reason reviewable in court.
Which says nothing about the mass surveillance the government has committed upon its citizens in recent years by invading private information without authorization.
Government can invade – that’s the bargain. If government has probable cause, it can can search and seize – take whatever the judge said it could. Even our memories aren’t totally private. The general principle is that there is no such thing as absolute privacy.
Two more reasons why I stick with Apple products. Privacy and security. Maybe criminals, hackers, and terrorists use iPhones, too. But as soon as the governments of the world have access to encrypted files and communication on our iPhones is the same day criminals, hackers, and terrorists go underground and use other devices with built-in encryption and tools that prevent exactly what Director Comey wants.
Other than the dialog, of course.