It is no big secret that the US government would like unfettered access to everyone’s communications. It is also true that since the Snowden revelations about the scale of government snooping, Apple and Google have both worked hard at restoring the public’s trust in their products by tightening up the built-in encryption on their phones – a move which has made head of the FBI James Comey angrily declare that ‘no one in this country is beyond the law.’
Now in an amusing new chapter to the story, White House officials like Comey are asking for technology firms to find a way to encrypt their products robustly enough that it keeps the ‘bad guys’ out, but with a purposefully built in legislated backdoor or ‘golden key’ that only the government (and of course the tech firm themselves) know how to use, arguing that,
‘There will come a day — well it comes every day in this business — when it will matter a great, great deal to the lives of people of all kinds that we be able to with judicial authorization gain access to a kidnapper’s or a terrorist or a criminal’s device. I just want to make sure we have a good conversation in this country before that day comes. I’d hate to have people look at me and say, ‘Well how come you can’t save this kid,’ ‘how come you can’t do this thing.’
What is amusing about this whole scenario is that the White House seems to lack a simple understanding of the way in which encryption works, and to not realize that what it is asking for is in effect impossible.
Hilariously, the White House seems to believe that tech firms are just trying to pull the wool over their eyes, apparently believing that the technology to give them a nice easy and effortless backdoor or special key into our phones must already exist, and that technology companies’ obvious lack of will to do so, which obviously flags them up as being anti-government, anti-freedom, anti-safety and quite frankly unconstitutional. I mean, don’t they care about the youth of America!? Those dastardly tech firms!
At last week’s RSA conference, Michael Daniel, the White House cyber-security policy coordinator, was asked if he knows of any respected technology figure who believes it is possible to have strong encryption that can also be circumvented by just one party’s legal authority. Unsurprisingly, Daniel replied that he knew of none, but did conclude that if anybody could come up with an answer, it would be the ‘enormously creative’ people at silicon valley. What utter nonsense and lies.
Michael Daniel, like anybody who knows anything about encryption, knows full well that it is an all or nothing thing – either you provide strong encryption, and therefore real privacy…or you don’t. Because you better believe that if the good guys can get in, then so can the bad guys.
In the end, it does not matter how many times the government claims that Google and Apple are specifically marketing their phones at criminals, and that their strong end-to-end encryption is going to end up in a ‘dead child’ by stopping law enforcement from doing their job.
The truth is that people are fed up with the government’s belief that it should have access to everything all of the time, and it is for this reason, just as much as to protect them from the harm of malicious hackers, that consumers want strong and effective encryption on their phones. It does not matter how many times James Comey or Michael Daniels try to insinuate that firms like Apple are unconstitutional for supplying their customers with what they want (and deserve), they can shout it until the cows come home because it simply is not true.