back to article Home Sec Amber Rudd: Yeah, I don't understand encryption. So what?

UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd has once again demonstrated she does not know how encryption works, this time by explicitly admitting it to delegates at a Tory party fringe conference where she also hit out at "patronising" techies that "sneered" at politicians. Speaking at a Spectator event, Rudd said: "It's so easy to be …

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Facepalm

I think politicians are much like managers in that apparently their job is not having any clue about how whatever they're managing works, but having a clue about how to herd human beings instead. And what is the single fundamental tenet of dealing with people? "Never take no for an answer", based on the observation that the surest way to get results is to assure the full involvement of your lab rat by forcing his interest to coincide with yours - ie. denying him the option to simply refuse what you ask. It turns out this approach more often than not produces results that are a workable compromise (for you the pragmatic tyrant) even when your original request is indeed a physical impossibility. It's all inconsequential - your minion, quivering in terror at the consequences of failing, will come up with something close enough.

Now, these days going medieval on your minions is somewhat frowned upon (to the great regret of the powers-that-be, no doubt), but the principle remains unchanged, which should go a long way towards helping us understand why they act as seemingly wilfully thick and stubborn as they do; it's not that they don't understand there's a fundamental problem with their request, but rather that us saying "no" just means they haven't put enough of the right kind of pressure on us. Coercion always gets results of one kind or another. No result just mean not enough coercion.

From the point of view of a techie thinking in absolutes, an imperfectly watertight, backdoored encryption is a useless thing not worth wasting any further brain cycles on. From their point of view, as long as they get their coveted back door, the rest of us getting left potentially naked in the cold is just a risk they're willing to take, even if they have to outright outlaw all "unlicensed" hard encryption to get there. I don't understand why we seem to think they'd finally "get it" if only we'd explain it all to them once again, clearly enough. Does anyone here seriously see these folks just going "oh, if it's not possible then of course just forget about the whole thing" at some point...? They DO GET IT just fine. As far as they're concerned, we're the ones failing to get it that there's no way out of this room until they get something approximating what they wanted...

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Re: post by DropBear

Depressingly accurate.

The question remains, why the fuck do we keep letting them get away with this?

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Anonymous Coward

"I don't need to know how encryption works" - true - not in detail but some knowledge on how it fits in would help.

"Terrorists can use encryption to communicate securely" (para) - true

"Security forces need back doors into encryption" - wrong

It not the facts she has wrong, though some could be, it's the conclusion. Terrorists and other criminals use all sorts of tools to plan and commit their acts but do you ban all of them just because it could be used that way?

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What I found more worrying is the gaol time for those viewing "terrorist material" on-line. Who defines what is "terrorist material"? Government could decree any sites working on disrupting their plans are "terrorist material".

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"What I found more worrying is the gaol time for those viewing "terrorist material" on-line. Who defines what is "terrorist material"? Government could decree any sites working on disrupting their plans are "terrorist material"."

i think that is the direction they are planning on taking, to include any content to the left of enoch powell

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Re: Who defines what is "terrorist material"?

Ray Bradbury.

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Terrorist Material

That's the sort of catch all. slippery language beloved of politicians.

If they don't like something its terrorism.

Any excuse will do e.g, the odd dodgy act by someone with a particular view and anyone with that view tarred with the same terrorist brush.

However I'm a bit worried about reading too much Conservative party information, after all they keep supplying arms to Saudi Arabia, and Saudi funds lots of terrorists so by looking at Tory websites / speeches I might be associating myself with supporting terrorism

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Re: Who defines what is "terrorist material"?

Tory Party Political Broadcasts? They terrify me.

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Too bloody right. How are we supposed to know what the Government have decided is terrorist material?

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Anonymous Coward

What I found more worrying is the gaol time for those viewing "terrorist material" on-line. Who defines what is "terrorist material"? Government could decree any sites working on disrupting their plans are "terrorist material".

Best switch the telly off, at least while the news is on.

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Who defines what is "terrorist material"? Government could decree any sites working on disrupting their plans are "terrorist material".

Or what happens when the government go all Spanish and decide that calls for Scottish independence are illegal?

Seriously, after this weekend, in a supposedly civilised, EU country with military levels of force against people expressing peaceful support of their elected representatives by just voting, I don't think the government have a leg to stand on when discussing supposedly anti-terrorist legislation.

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MJI
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Re: Terrorist Material

I saw some once, it was hilarious, the subtitles were so full of information.

It appears they all join up for the hot gay sex.

A parody, yet illegal.

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It not the facts she has wrong, though some could be, it's the conclusion.

That's probably because she working backwards from a desired end-state (having access to everything, everywhere) and needs to find adequate[1] justification for doing so.

And in the minds of a lot of the populace[2] she's right - because they don't understand the issue either.

[1] In her view and that of her minders in the Civil Service who, having done PPE or Classics at Oxbridge, don't understand either.

[2] Most of whom see a computer as a magic box that sometimes breaks down but mostly shows stuff on the Interwebnetthingy.

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Best switch the telly off, at least while the news is on.

Let's skip the news boy (I'll make some tea)

The Arabs and the Jews boy (too much for me)

They get me confused boy (puts me off to sleep)

And the thing I hate - Oh Lord!

Is staying up late, to watch some debate, on some nation's fate.

(Genesis, Blood on the Rooftops)

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"What I found more worrying is the gaol time for those viewing "terrorist material" on-line."

Here are some things that have been used in terrorist attacks. Each of them can, therefore, be considered to be "terrorist material". Presumably reading this post is an act of sedition.

Pressure Cookers; Nails; Screws; Nuts; Bolts; Ball Bearings; Flour; Fertiliser; Diesel Oil; Motor Vehicles; Knives; Batteries; Countdown Timers; Shopping Bags; Plastic Buckets; Mobile Phones.

Lots of others but I don't want to be accused of writing a Terrorist Cookbook.

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Anonymous Coward

Polystyrene cups, elastic bands, gasoline. That's a nasty combination.

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Anonymous Coward

What I found more worrying is the gaol time for those viewing "terrorist material" on-line. Who defines what is "terrorist material"? Government could decree any sites working on disrupting their plans are "terrorist material". I now worry I'm on a watchlist for viewing YouTube videos of someone chucking a large lump of Sodium/dry ice/other substance into their back yard swimming pool. Ooh and I saw an instructional film about how to take over a US Navy Warship a few nights ago on television. Made a mental note to check for the presence of Steven Segal before attempting it. This was a central warning in the video and I haven't forgotten it.

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Oh well maybe they'll do what they did in Scotland regarding some types of Pr0n.

Scotland bans smut. What smut? Won't say" just don't tell anyone:

A spokesman told us: "We do not publicly disclose our prosecution policy in relation to specific offences as to do so may allow offenders to adapt or restrict their behaviour to conduct which falls short of our prosecution threshold."

They added that any such information would also be exempt from any attempt to tease it out by using Freedom of Information legislation.

Jennie Kermode, a Glasgow-based campaigner and writer for film review site Eye for Film told us: "The problem with the Crown Office's position in this instance is that, with the best will in the world, people cannot be expected to adhere to a law they do not understand. In the case of a crime like murder, it's pretty simple – don't kill people."

She added: "In this case, what the law says is that people may possess some images but not others; how are they to know which ones are okay?

"This kind of law has a chilling effect on activity not actually considered criminal, much as the infamous Section 2A (clause 28 in England) restricted discussion of homosexuality far beyond its original mandate due to its lack of clarity. Such intentional obfuscation goes against the spirit of our legal system."

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RE: AC

There's an opt-out if you claim you're a journalist...Yeah, it's a stupid law though. Information should be unrestricted in a free society.

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FAIL

Re: RE: AC

""We do not publicly disclose our prosecution policy in relation to specific offences as to do so may allow offenders to adapt or restrict their behaviour to conduct which falls short of our prosecution threshold.""

Fucking what??

So, by that logic, you wouldn't publicize the policy on prosecuting murder because people might then know how to avoid murdering people?

Very Kafkaesque.

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Anonymous Coward

"I don't need to understand how encryption works to understand how it's helping – end-to-end encryption – the criminals"

Yup. Not understanding stuff you are making decisions about is always a fab idea. Top Tip : Save all this pesky 'trying to understand' stuff by selecting policies with a blindfold and a pin.

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She's not wrong, tbh. She doesn't need to understand encryption to understand how it helps terrorists.

Unfortunately, she does need to understand it if she's to try and formulate any sort of policy in reaction to that, and that's where it's all fallen down for them. Otherwise, you end up in the Canute-like position of trying to repeal maths by force of law, which doesn't work.

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Anonymous Coward

"Otherwise, you end up in the Canute-like position of trying to repeal maths by force of law, which doesn't work."

The Republicans in Alabama have tried that already for Pi = 3.

“For decades, we’ve all been learning that pi is this crazy ‘irrational’ number. And any number with no end is, not, well, it makes it really hard,” Roby said. “We talked about making pi 3-and-a-third, but that wouldn’t really help, because you’re still then stuck with endless threes.”

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Joke

Their first mistake

was in not just trying to make it 31/8 - surely that would have fit much better into the non-metrique, 'english' system of measurements too?

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Except that has already been debunked.

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Stop

Alabama Pi bill = urban legend

However, Indiana (almost) passed something similar in 1897:

https://www.agecon.purdue.edu/crd/localgov/Second%20Level%20pages/indiana_pi_bill.htm

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I have often wondered what happens if something is actually 'bunked'.

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I have often wondered what happens if something is actually 'bunked'.

I understand that this is how politicians breed. I am trying not to think about this too much.

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Re: Alabama Pi bill = urban legend

Linkify your links or they get truncated...

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"Otherwise, you end up in the Canute-like position of trying to repeal maths by force of law, which doesn't work."

Sorry to go all Bob but JUST GO AND READ UP ABOUT CANUTE.

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Anonymous Coward

This is easy to sort out.

Why don't we just rename encryption/decryption as combobulation/discombobulation and leave her to go after breaking encryption?

Then when she does find out it'll make even less sense than what she's asking for now.

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Pint

Discombobulation

A term I have not heard for many years. May I raise you a pint for adding to the pool of El Reg approved vocabulalry?

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Joke

Re: Discombobulation

Along with other notably fine words:

Anaspeptic

Frasmotic

Compunctuous

Pericombobulation

Contrafibularities

Sausages*

Sadly not yet available in reputable dictionaries.

*apart from this one, obviously (and Aardvark) :)

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DevOps Idea

Having just watched the original "DevOps" talk by the guys from Flickr - basically get Ops and Devs to work together - here's an idea - how about Politicians WORK with Experts rather than blaming each other?????

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Re: DevOps Idea

Many experts are dying to work with the government, but are constantly frustrated by politicians ignoring their advice, because their advice says: sorry, that is impossible. Amber Rudd would probably say I was condescending if I give a mathematical proof of the impossibility to crack a message encrypted with a true one-time pad, and then demonstrate how easy it is to construct one.

There is also the issue of a very different communication style between techies and politicians: techies are very blunt, and have a tact filter on their input, so they don't easily get offended when they are told bluntly that they are wrong. Politicians (and indeed most others) find being told they are wrong far more offensive.

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TRT
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Re: DevOps Idea

Call it DivOps.

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Re: DevOps Idea

"how about Politicians WORK with Experts rather than blaming each other?"

I fail to see what the politicians are supposed to bring to the partnership, tbh.

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Re: Politicians WORK with Experts Idea

Beautiful theory, practical implementation is tricky.

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Re: DevOps Idea

how about Politicians WORK with Experts rather than blaming each other

Don't be silly - that might affect the politicians chance of being re-elected!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: DevOps Idea

how about Politicians WORK with Experts rather than blaming each other?????

When every expert tells Government that their policy over drugs - both illegal and legal, with the exception of nicotine now we've gone all sensible over vaping - is utterly wrongheaded, yet they continue with more and more criminalisation because The Daily Mail, you can understand why experts find it tricky to engage with Government policy. And bad for their mental health, too.

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Holmes

Re: DevOps Idea

I fail to see what the politicians are supposed to bring to the partnership, tbh.

Choccie biccies? 'bout all they're qualified for!

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SVV
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The Home Office

Has she not asked anyone to explain to her how "it works"? Is there nobody there that understands it?

"Well minister, it will be rather difficult to stop because it's done using something called source code, which is how all other computery stuff is done too"

"Right, draft a bill for me that bans this source code stuff, that'll solve the problem"

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Anonymous Coward

No one at the ICO has a Comp-Sci Degree...Says it all.

You forget there is not a single person working at the ICO (Information Commissioner's Office) has a computer science degree. Well, it may have changed, but that was certainly the case not long back.

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Re: The Home Office

Has she not asked anyone to explain to her how "it works"? Is there nobody there that understands it?

I've explained this before.

There are people at the HO who do understand it. They need someone who doesn't to front things for them because such a person will be able to spout the bollocks they tell her with complete sincerity as she doesn't know any better.

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Re: The Home Office

Exactly. If she want's terrorists to stop using the internet, why doesn't she just break it or turn it off? All she has to do is type Google into Google, or flick the switch on the box with the little red light on it.

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Re: The Home Office

Coming next week, Amber Rudd will make a speech about how great the Internet is and she's managed to borrow it to show everyone *cue small black box* "it's wireless!".

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Re: The Home Office

Except it is likely that the Home Office is the real problem here. I know I have mentioned this before, but every Home Sec seems to get radicalised within weeks of taking the job. Having an especially dimwitted incumbent just makes radicalisation easier.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The Home Office

Anyone else reminded by this of Jen in the IT Crowd: '*This*...is the internet!'

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Facepalm

Re: The Home Office

You're right - happens to all Home Secs. I reckon it's something in the water coolers as the Home Office. Remember how Blunkett quickly went off the rails once he arrived. One sip, and it's all "Who needs airy-fairy civil liberties!".

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Re: The Home Office

Its Dementors. definitely.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The Home Office

I work at the Home Office, though nothing in this area.

Contrary to what many people think, there are some very clever people at the Home Office working on IT and some of them really do understand this stuff, at least more than I do.

So I have no doubt that techies are speaking out, I'm unsure if people are listening or other people are poisoning the words or softening them.

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