If You Think Encryption Back Doors Won't Be Abused, You May Be a Member of Congress

In the middle of a scandal over FISA surveillance, leaders want still more power to snoop on your secret stuff.


The FBI was way too lax when it sought a secret warrant to wiretap former Trump aide Carter Page. Yet some of the very same people who have been publicly aghast at the circumstances Page scandal are still trying to hammer companies like Apple and Facebook into compromising everybody's data security to give law enforcement access to your stuff.

You're forgiven if you missed this news, as it happened at the exact same time last week that the impeachment counts against President Donald Trump were revealed. Our extremely tech-unsavvy lawmakers brought in a few experts to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing and essentially ignored what they said and yelled demands at them. Virtually every tech expert and privacy advocate under the sun has warned virtually every government official in the world that "back doors" that let police bypass encryption has the potential to cause huge harms and actually makes citizens even more vulnerable to crime. But the legislators want their back doors, dammit.

Here's Sen. Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.), who just a day later would express shock that the process for the FBI to get a FISA warrant was not as thorough as he believed: "My advice to you is to get on with it, because this time next year, if we haven't found a way that you can live with, we will impose our will on you." When a witness attempted to explain how complicated an issue encryption is, Graham responded, "Well, it ain't complicated for me."

The Democrats haven't been impressive on this issue either. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D–Calif.) still holds the position that it's no big deal if tech companies just let law enforcement officials in to read encrypted material, as long as they've got a warrant. Sen. Dick Durbin (D–Ill.) thinks the debate is about whether encryption implemented by companies puts information "beyond the reach of the law." He doesn't seem to care about the arguments that weakening encryption and providing back doors will let hackers and hostile nations access the private data and communications of people around the world (including Americans).

The talking point both the Justice Department and the lawmakers have settled on is that they need to be able demand back doors for the children. Apparently, we all need weaker protections in order to fight child sexual abuse and trafficking.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D–R.I.) asked the tech industry witnesses if they'd be willing to "take responsibility for the harm" that might be caused if law enforcement didn't have back door access. But is Congress and the Justice Department going to "take responsibility for the harm" when these vulnerabilities make it out into the wild (as they inevitably would) and are abused by criminals or by authoritarian states?

This encryption fight has been going on for years, and the back door advocates has resolutely refused to consider the possibility of abuse. Graham in particular has been unwilling to consider the possibility that FISA warrants could ever be used to secretly snoop on Americans inappropriately. But by Thursday, he had changed his tune; if nothing else, the Trump case has forced him to think about what can go wrong when the government can secretly access people's private information without their permission.

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  1. If you think, “The NSA has an extensive file on me, and it wouldn’t be smart for me to piss them off.”, you’re probably a member of Congress.

    1. Our LOUSY, Criminal legislators ought to be thrown out of their positions and locked up. They DO NOT represent us, they RULE us. Cut government at EVERY level by at least 50%.

      1. 50% year over year sounds perfect to me.

  2. “we will impose our will on you.”
    “Well, it ain’t complicated for me.”

    Christ, what an asshole.

    1. And yet, we have to believe he is a better choice than whoever he last ran against.

      1. And yet he is better than half of Congress on fiscal matters. That’s a sorry state of affairs.

  3. “If You Think Encryption Back Doors Won’t Be Abused, You May Be a Member of Congress.”

    Either that, or one of the snooping fascist pigs at Twitter, Google, FascistBook, or some other Big Tech company.

  4. Footage of the Senate Judiciary Committee discussing encryption back doors

    1. omg, nice pull on Josie and the Pussyhats. I haven’t seen that movie in ages. Very underappreciated satire

      1. My Josie DVD gets a lot of wear. The scene where they’re “discovered” is hysterical.

  5. Can someone elaborate how, exactly, something like this would work (moral issues aside)? What happens to professional cryptographers?

    1. Two ways.

      One, either the algorithm is such that one of two keys can be used to decrypt, allowing the company/fed to keep the “master key” and unlock the data on any phone/account/whatever at any point.

      The other, whenever someone sets a new key on their device, that key is stored with the company/fed so that they can use it to unlock the data at their leisure.

      The kind of encryption algorithm that supports the former aren’t great, and are inherently easier to break then what’s normally used.

      Both styles also require infrastructure for transmittal and storage of keys, and the key-storage obviously becomes a very juicy target in itself as it will be the master key list for lots of things.

      Bottom line? You can do this sort of thing, but only by compromising security.

      1. I can understand how you can implement cryptography with some kind of “master key” in escrow (insecure as that may be). But suppose we did have that scheme baked into hardware. What happens when I just download an open source implementation of public-key cryptography and use that? Practically speaking, how would they stop that?

        1. Easy, NSA tracks your download and hauls you off to prison, and smashes all your tech hardware.

          1. So that goes back to my original question–what happens to all the professional cryptographers? Is their research suddenly nuclear secrets or something? Presumably you can’t constitutionally stop people from working out math problems. I guess you can try to stop them from using it, as you say.

          2. BigT
            December.16.2019 at 5:07 pm
            Easy, NSA tracks your download and hauls you off to prison, and smashes all your tech hardware.

            Unless you’re related to Imran Awan, in which case you smash your own stuff and flee to Pakistan while American corporate media memory holes your existence

  6. I confess to not being much worried about banning working (ie, snoop-free) encryption. Clinton couldn’t band PGP and the deep state won’t be able to either. True encryption will always be available.

    They could mandate a revived Clinton Clipper chip in all phones and computers. However, that won’t help when the data encrypted with a back door has already been encrypted without a back door. On computers, that’s pretty easy; probably a little trickier on phones. But Firefox, for instance, is free-source software, so they can’t stop it encrypting pages it sends. Received pages depend on the sender for the same protection, and I don’t know if big companies would be interested in flouting a federal law. However, Tor will probably make it meaningless.

    Yes, they can make computers a pain in the ass, slow them down a little. But they can’t prevent people encrypting beyond the government’s control.

    1. I suspect that the main visible effect of clipper chip-style mandates would be a gigantic increase in credit card and identity fraud.

    2. You presume that you can run unapproved software on your devices; that ability is rapidly disappearing.

      That is, Apple and Android will simply not approve applications that lack the necessary backdoors; web sites that try to get around this with scripting will be illegal as well.

      The few remaining people who know how to hand-install applications or run Linux on immobile hardware simply won’t matter much, and they will be presumed to be guilty of using illegal encryption by default anyway.

  7. Did you really expect anything besides rank hypocrisy from Surveillance State’s Red Cheer Squad and Blue Cheer Squad?

  8. “My advice to you is to get on with it, because this time next year, if we haven’t found a way that you can live with, we will impose our will on you.”

    Is he threatening to repeal the laws of physics, or just amending them?

    1. Graham probably thinks Congress has the authority to repeal physical laws.

      OTOH, we could do so much more without these antiquated laws stopping us.

      1. The law that you can’t go faster than the speed of light kinda pisses me off.

        1. Ahem.

          Cherenkov radiation is electromagnetic radiation emitted when a charged particle (such as an electron) passes through a dielectric medium at a speed greater than the phase velocity of light in that medium.

    2. He doesn’t have to. The ability to install your own software on your own hardware is rapidly disappearing, at least for mainstream users. If he gets Microsoft, Apple, Google, and Amazon to install backdoors for their cloud services and require backdoors for any application sold through them, they cover almost everybody. And if you use any other platform, the FBI can arrest you at any time because they will simply claim that you are using unapproved encryption and good luck proving otherwise.

  9. I remember someone said a long time ago, “a secret is something known to only one person”.

    Of course, any text can be in code, and no bunch of ones and zeros can figure out what is what. All the feds can do is tell tech companies they have to decode stuff that was coded on their devices. Can’t do squat about what I encoded before I typed it onto a device.
    Of course, I would never use a computer for any kind of secure communications.

    1. Of course, I would never use a computer for any kind of secure communications.

      What would you use?

      1. Carrier cockroaches.

      2. Toddlers. Only their parents can understand them. More indecipherable than Apache code talkers.

  10. the Justice Department and the lawmakers have settled on is that they need to be able demand back doors for the children.

    Jeffrey Epstein approves!

    1. The men don’t know what the little girls understand.

    2. “Fighting kiddie porn” was the go-to argument in favor of back-doors during the Clinton years. After 9.11 it was replaced with the “we need this to fight terrorists” argument; some Clintonians even implied that they had really wanted back-doors to prevent terrorists attacks but cited kiddie porn because they “did not want the terrorists to know we were on to them.” Now we’re back to “kiddie porn” with an added dose of sex trafficking. I’m waiting for the “we need back-doors to fight white supremacy” argument.

  11. why don’t you call out the power-mad for what they are?

    1. Retards?

      1. Are you Janoris Jenkins?

        1. Is that what he said?
          I was guessing it was “bitch”

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  14. Trust us, we won’t abuse Encryption Back Doors. We will only use them against murders, rapist, political opponents and political dissenters.

  15. Implementing a one-time pad is trivial and essentially unbreakable without access to the pad. A DVD filled with noise is easy to hand to a co-conspirator.

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  17. “Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D–R.I.) asked the tech industry witnesses if they’d be willing to “take responsibility for the harm” that might be caused if law enforcement didn’t have back door access.” Hey Sheldon will you and every gun grabbing politician be willing to take responsibility for the harm done to unarmed people unable to defend themselves? Will you attend the funerals of those people?

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