Getting past the ominous “Going Dark”

The Executive Summary

Right off the bat, the first sentence is simply not true.

Please, not another expert committee

As the report correctly points out,

  • Cryptology, Global commerce and economics, and technology sectors
  • Federal, state and local law enforcement
  • Intelligence Community
  • Privacy and civil liberties community

Not a new problem

7 Findings

The report lists seven general findings — actually there are five findings which are straightforward and uncontroversial, plus a couple of ringers.

  1. Encryption is widely used with modern digital technology.
  2. Law enforcement investigations regularly encounter encrypted data.
  3. Technology, including encryption, is essential to protect infrastructure.
  4. These issues are worldwide.
  5. Legislative proposals have failed, being either too heavy-handed or ineffective.

Ancient laws and high tech don’t mix

The report notes but fails to see anything about the wisdom of applying 18th century law to a 21st century technology problem.

Privacy is not an option (the report says)

Again the report authors are selling the law enforcement position as impartial fact in summarizing the privacy aspect of this issue.

The Director doth protest too much, methinks

The dirty secret the report never mentions

Here’s one key part that the FBI never talks about. Let’s suppose the FBI gets their way and the entire US software industry converts to 100% certified backdoor encryption enabling law enforcement to instantly read every bit of data in all of our networks, computers, and devices.

A former dirty secret, now common knowledge

Up until mid-2013 US law enforcement actually had its cake and ate it too. Until the Snowden leaks revealed the truth, the world scarcely imagined the scale of pervasive digital data surveillance by the US government.

Transparency

While some claim that sacrifice is necessary, you can bet they are referring only to public sacrifices and not about to change the ways of the federal intelligence community and law enforcement who are all too eager for the public to give up more of their rights.

American strength and pride

American freedom and democracy are what make this country strong.

Report Appendix: legal access standards

The report contains a handy appendix summarizing the legal standards required for law enforcement to gain access to the private information of citizens. This is offered without explaining the basis of access, nor any justification of why we are wise to give up our privacy rights so readily. There are three categories of private information subject to access:

  • Relevance: Name/Physical Address/#, Call Times/Duration, Billing Records (I believe # is phone number)
  • Reasonable Suspicion: To/From IP Addresses, Transactional Records (apparently this includes the internet traffic your ISP sees but is not well defined)
  • Probable Cause: Emails, Text Messages, Pictures (and contents of your PC or smartphone)

Next step: transparency, not another committee

I believe that the next step is the sunshine and fresh air of a serious effort and transparency by the government. That — not another committee of experts — would significantly allow the rest of us to see what the government is doing, and how and why, and might lead toward a better common understanding and finding a way forward.

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Author of Designing Secure Software: a guide for developers. Writing software since 1968. Living on Kauai.

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Loren Kohnfelder

Loren Kohnfelder

Author of Designing Secure Software: a guide for developers. Writing software since 1968. Living on Kauai.