back to article Who's right on crypto: An American prosecutor or a Lebanese coder?

The debate over encryption has become particularly intense following the deadly attacks in Paris. Politicians, police, and government agents insist the encryption in our software and gadgets be limited. Tech companies and programmers insist the encryption be implemented fully securely. This past week, there have been two …

  1. Andy Tunnah

    Nope, don't care

    I find the examples given deplorable, as I expect (hope?) everyone else does, but I just will never support broken encryption.

    You can tell me all the horror stories you want, but at the end of the day it will just never be worth it, because while crimes and examples are something ready to display the power of the "for" argument, the power of encryption means we don't have any examples of the "against" column, and that's what I'll always be rooting for. The day where someone can show "but dissident was tracked, his phone hacked, and now is strung up in the gallows" is a day we've failed.

    People suck, crime sucks, but it isn't just a phone that makes a case, and I truly believe more harm than good will come out of broken encryption.

    1. LucreLout Silver badge

      Re: Nope, don't care

      @Andy Tunnah

      I find the examples given deplorable, as I expect (hope?) everyone else does, but I just will never support broken encryption.

      Broken encryption isn't encryption.

      People suck, crime sucks, but it isn't just a phone that makes a case, and I truly believe more harm than good will come out of broken encryption.

      As do I. However, I don't see it as being required at all.

      You can secure your home against unwanted entry, but you cannot refuse to comply with a search warrant. Why then can the same not be held true for encrypted data? If the authorities can persuade a judge to grant them lawful access to your data, then they have the right to access it. If you decline to co-operate and open your devices, then you can stay in jail until you abide by the warrant. It removes the benefits of encryption accruing to criminals without harming the rest of us.

      Obviously, careful oversight and monitoring would be required, but being innocent of that of which you are suspected and having your data searched is not radically different from being innocent and having your home searched. Fixing the law does not require breaking encryption.

      Terrorists obviously won't comply, but you can't change our whole society and way of life to handle such edge cases.

      1. Joseph Eoff

        Re: Nope, don't care

        Certainly you can secure your home against unwanted entry, and the police have to have a warrent to search it.

        The analogy to cryptography falls apart, though, because the police have to have a warrant and they still have to come in the door to get in your house.

        In the case of cryptography, they are basically saying that every house has to have an additional entrance with a master key. The master key is only supposed to be in the hands of those with auhorization, but how long do you think the master key will stay there? I estimate the master keys will stay in authorized hands for approximately 0.01 milliseconds, thereafter every no-good sumbitch on the planet will have a copy and be making plans to make mose effective use of said keys.

        So, no back doors in encrypted systems - EVER.

        1. LucreLout Silver badge

          Re: Nope, don't care

          @Joeseph Eoff

          The analogy to cryptography falls apart, though, because the police have to have a warrant and they still have to come in the door to get in your house.

          That's the point I was making - having them come to your device and have you unlock it is the same thing. Don't comply, then go to jail until you do. It removes the protection criminals enjoy without violating anyone else's right to privacy.

          n the case of cryptography, they are basically saying that every house has to have an additional entrance with a master key.

          Master keys are broken cryptography, which as I've said, is no cryptography.

          1. Andy Davies

            Re: Nope, don't care

            That's the point I was making - having them come to your device and have you unlock it is the same thing. Don't comply, then go to jail until you do. It removes the protection criminals enjoy without violating anyone else's right to privacy.

            I have an encrypted file on my computer, I made it years ago, it contains nothing of any interest - but - I have absolutely no idea what key I used. So would jail time be appropriate?

            1. LucreLout Silver badge

              Re: Nope, don't care

              I have an encrypted file on my computer, I made it years ago, it contains nothing of any interest - but - I have absolutely no idea what key I used. So would jail time be appropriate?

              It's not about what is appropriate, it is about what is.

              You could already find yourself in jail for several years for that file. Given your apparent inability to open it, maybe deleting it would be the smart move, no?

        2. teancum144

          Re: Nope, don't care

          Except if you lock your door; with a legal warrant, they can break down your door. How is this accomplished with encryption?

          1. LucreLout Silver badge

            Re: Nope, don't care

            Except if you lock your door; with a legal warrant, they can break down your door. How is this accomplished with encryption?

            It can't be, because broken encryption isn't encryption. There can never be any back door permitted. So what they'd do instead is assume the worst and jail you until you unlock the device. It's much liek they do now, but it takes away the benefits of reduced tariffs for nonces etc and simultaneously closes down the governments encryption that isn't encryption magical circle-jerk.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Nope, don't care

            brute force still works but they want timely access

          3. DougS Silver badge

            @teancum144 - breaking down the door

            And what if you have a windowless house built from concrete with a steel door they can't break down? What amount of resources will they invest in trying to saw through the concrete until they hit stainless steel rebar, then deciding it is easier to get a torch to cut through the hinges on the door and find the door is made with some special steel alloy they make bank vaults from that resists normal cutting torches?

            As far as I know, it isn't illegal to make a really secure house that the police can't get into even with a legal warrant. Can they jail you if you refuse to let them in and they're unable to break down the door?

            1. LucreLout Silver badge

              Re: @teancum144 - breaking down the door

              @DougS

              Can they jail you if you refuse to let them in and they're unable to break down the door?

              Do they need to? you've just put yourself under house arrest. All they do now is turn off your utilities and wait for you to emerge. Until then you stay under house arrest. I'm surprised you don't recognize that as being identical to what I described....

              1. DougS Silver badge

                @LucreLout

                Who says you're home when the police are trying to get in? If you have the resources to do what I suggest, and the police willing to serve a warrant on you, you're probably one of those criminals who has multiple houses. You're living it up elsewhere!

      2. AndrewDu

        Re: Nope, don't care

        " It removes the benefits of encryption accruing to criminals without harming the rest of us."

        Until the definition of "criminals" is expanded by the elites to include something you didn't expect, and then you're toast.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Nope, don't care

          Until the definition of "criminals" is expanded by the elites to include something you didn't expect... or the miscreants and script kiddies suss it out - as the keep doing with the TLA's backdoors... or some plod leaves his keys in some brothel... or some fucktard "OEM" distributes the "private" keys on some piece of shit they're selling... or... etc... and then you're toast.

          PS Downvote wasn't from me. Looks like Mattie B has breezed through.

          1. Roland6 Silver badge

            Re: Nope, don't care

            Until the definition of "criminals" is expanded by the elites to include something you didn't expect...

            Well an obvious group of "criminals" are dead criminals!

            Using the analogy, the police can still search the person's home but not their smartphone if it is encrypted.

            Not saying that devices should or shouldn't be encrypted, only pointing out a problem area..

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Nope, don't care

              Well an obvious group of "criminals" are dead criminals!

              Using the analogy, the police can still search the person's home but not their smartphone if it is encrypted.

              Can't say I lose a great deal of sleep over the insidious menace of dead criminals. Perhaps you can learn to live with letting dead criminals (and their mobes) RIP?

              1. Roland6 Silver badge

                Re: Nope, don't care

                >Can't say I lose a great deal of sleep over the insidious menace of dead criminals.

                I suspect the mobile phone of a dead terrorist might contain useful information as would the mobile phone dropped by a terrorist - ask the French police for their opinion...

                But then from the viewpoint expressed by Nadim Kobeissi, permitting this style of access isn't without repercussions...

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Nope, don't care

          > Until the definition of "criminals" is expanded by the elites to include something you didn't expect, and then you're toast.

          Whoever has downvoted that comment is living a very sheltered life.

        3. alain williams Silver badge

          Re: Nope, don't care

          There are plenty of stories of corrupt government and of the rich being prepared to do anything to stay rich. There seems to be a lot of evidence, I am not a historian or journalist so it is hard for me to verify things like: JFK - 9/11 except to say that much of it I have heard before.

          Something worth reading is this: Shock Doctrine and also Shock Doctrine.

          It is easy to label as conspiracy theory, but there are plenty of unanswered questions.

          1. LucreLout Silver badge

            Re: Nope, don't care

            @alain williams

            I grow increasingly weary of the tinfoil hatters nonsense, for that is what it ALL is, around the events of 9/11. The one thing they all have in common is that none of them were there that day; it's just regurgitated rubbish based on shakey video footage and imperfect knowledge as the the precise cause of each little sub-event.

            Some terrorists hijacked some planes and flew them into some buildings. Lots of innocent people died. It's no more complicated than that. It wasn't the government, it wasn't the Jews, it wasn't Elvis flamin' Presley either. The person to blame was Osama Bin Laden, and he paid for that with his life.

            The conspiracy theorists are all just a little bit sick, and they all do a disservice to those who died that day.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Nope, don't care

              RE: Events of 9/11 etc, the "security services" had full access at that time and yet 9/11 still happened, either they are incompetent or they allowed it to happen.

              So the real question is simple, if the people demanding access to the public privacy "do not"/"fail to" stop events such as 9/11 then why should we give up our freedoms.

              The all the arguments against normal people being allowed to have some privacy fail to convince me that the people watching me in the shower are more interested in the "baddies" than me.

              1. LucreLout Silver badge

                Re: Nope, don't care

                @Ac

                RE: Events of 9/11 etc, the "security services" had full access at that time and yet 9/11 still happened, either they are incompetent or they allowed it to happen.

                If you don't know that you're talking rubbish then you probably need to speak to a doctor.

                What is it you think they had full access to exactly? 9/11 was planned in a cave in Afghanistan. Unless you think the security services are omnipresent then your hypothesis is terminally flawed.

                So the real question is simple, if the people demanding access to the public privacy "do not"/"fail to" stop events such as 9/11 then why should we give up our freedoms.

                What freedom precisely is it you feel you're giving up?

                You've never had a right to privacy from criminal investigation by the state, and in general terms you're not giving up your privacy except where a judge can be convinced that you need to do so - which is exactly how search warrants work.

                Regardless, scope creep (which we're definitely seeing) with regard to state surveillance powers has NOTHING to do with the disgusting and empty-headed conspiracy theories around 9/11.

                That you don't understand you've conflated two wholly separate issues leads me to suspect term time may have ended early where you live?

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: Nope, don't care

                  @ LucreLout

                  LucreLout, you're acting like a troll. Why do you attack authors who makes reference to the 911 disaster? Is this some sort of "hot button" for you? This discussion has little to do with 911, except that that event is a textbook example of protective force malfeasance. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (USA) at the start of the second world war is an equally valid example of malfeasance, but is less relevant to a discussion on cryptography.

                  1. LucreLout Silver badge

                    Re: Nope, don't care

                    @AC

                    Why do you attack authors who makes reference to the 911 disaster

                    What you're doing isn't making reference to it. You're trying to leverage the dead to make some demented David Ike style political point, which is frankly disgusting.

                    And I'm not attacking you, simply pointing out that 9/11 had NOTHING to do with the tinfoil hat paranoid shite you would like it to have. Did I miss the lizard people from the list of things that didn't cause 9/11?

                    Cowardly terrorists + planes + buildings = 9/11. Nothing more, nothing less.

                    Is this some sort of "hot button" for you?

                    That would be a fair assessment, yes. You'll find that most people living in New York at that time have very little time or patience for people like you abusing that day for your own ends or amusement.

                    except that that event is a textbook example of protective force malfeasance.

                    Neither I nor Google have any clue what you think that term to mean. I know what protective force means, and I know what malfeasance means, but the term you've used seemingly means nothing. Is it something that's leaked out of your conspiracy theorist echo chamber?

        4. nijam Silver badge

          Re: Nope, don't care

          " It removes the benefits of encryption accruing to criminals without harming the rest of us."

          Whereas Snowden's (and others') revelations have shown that it is dodgy governement agencies who are the criminals. And that harms everybody.

          1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
            Paris Hilton

            Is a compromise possible?

            (Hypothetical question)..

            If the data were to be stored at rest UN-encrypted, but only accessible via an 'encryption' gate at the hardware level, this would prevent remote access to the data if you don't have the key.

            However, using a physical switch inside the device to bypass the encryption gate would give access to the data without a key, but only if you have the device.

            Alternatively, you could set up a second encryption gate where the fuzz have the other key, but the interface to this second gate is only accessible physically.

            I'm not sure if this is possible, or even advisable, I'm just thinking out loud about a possible compromise that doesn't open up everyone's full details to remote scrutiny, yet does allow for law enforcement to properly investigate a crime.

            If no compromise is found, the powers that will be will just stomp all over device-end encryption with their jack-boots to the point where even owning a device capable of running an app on it that performs that function could become a crime.

            1. Ben Tasker Silver badge

              Re: Is a compromise possible?

              If the data were to be stored at rest UN-encrypted, but only accessible via an 'encryption' gate at the hardware level, this would prevent remote access to the data if you don't have the key.

              However, using a physical switch inside the device to bypass the encryption gate would give access to the data without a key, but only if you have the device.

              Unfortunately, the random mugger who nicks your phone would also have access to this switch

              Alternatively, you could set up a second encryption gate where the fuzz have the other key, but the interface to this second gate is only accessible physically.

              Sounds good on paper, except as the data is stored un-encrypted all "you" need to do is to figure out a means to bypass the gate (whether consumer facing or LEO facing) to introduce a plaintext gate.

              Certainly more of a challenge than simply nicking a phone and having all the data there ready, but it still massively undermines the point in encrypting the data at rest.

              If no compromise is found, the powers that will be will just stomp all over device-end encryption with their jack-boots to the point where even owning a device capable of running an app on it that performs that function could become a crime.

              There's arguably a good chance they'll try to do that any way. If we look at your gated example, the next thing to come would be "Criminals have learnt how to nobble the LEO access point".

              On the upside, given an app can be written anywhere, whilst it might be a crime to have that app they're going to have a hard time actually stopping it. The harder they (visibily) push against law-abiding citizens, the more their motives come into question. There's a balance they have to keep as well, it takes a lot, but beyond a certain point people's apathy goes away and they start questioning things (and, given how easy it is, installing apps to "protect" themselves).

            2. Graham Cobb

              Re: Is a compromise possible?

              Alternatively, you could set up a second encryption gate where the fuzz have the other key, but the interface to this second gate is only accessible physically.

              But which fuzz? If I am a UK citizen, in the UK, I am subject to UK laws. Why should US or Chinese or Saudi Arabian or Indian or Russian fuzz be able to access my data (particularly if it is important to the economic wellbeing or security of the UK)? It isn't possible to have a system where law enforcement access can be permitted for some countries and not others. It is either physically possible to legally compel access or it isn't -- and not all legal systems are, in reality, equal.

              If no compromise is found, the powers that will be will just stomp all over device-end encryption with their jack-boots to the point where even owning a device capable of running an app on it that performs that function could become a crime.

              No, they won't. Major IT countries (including the US and Western Europe) won't because (as described in the article) it will sign the death warrants for their economically important major IT companies (users will go elsewhere). Other countries, with a less developed IT industry may try it but they will find massive bypassing of the rules.

              1. Stork Bronze badge

                Re: Is a compromise possible?

                Totally agree. A couple of related thoughts:

                - In the UK, "economic wellbeing" is part of the spies' work. Sounds like it covers spying on non-uk businesses too. If you have "nothing to hide", it means you don't have an important position in any organisation.

                - What about rough insiders, selling info? Snowden went public, but I would be surprised if he was the only of the 850000 with Top Secret*) clearance that siphoned off info.

                *) Top Secret is a bit of a joke here. As my dad once said, if more than 2 people know it, it is not a secret any more.

            3. John Stoffel

              Re: Is a compromise possible?

              If the data is un-encrypted at rest, what is to stop the bad person/goverment/corporation from just pulling the data off by shutting down the system at rest and hoovering up the data that way? Or from backups? Or just making a copy at the operating system level?

              And how would you know if that happened?

            4. PsiAC

              Re: Is a compromise possible?

              Not having any encryption at rest means the device itself is entirely unencrypted. If it were to encode your data every time you entered your password, then decrypt it for the device to run, that would simply defeat the entire purpose of having the encryption in the first place.

              unencrypted data -> encryption gate -> nonsense -> decryption gate -> operating system

              This redundant encryption only ensures the sanctity of your data while it is being transmitted between the hardware and the OS. As far as I'm concerned, if your data is being snaffled there, you've already lost, since it tends to be difficult to insert something between the hardware and the OS without someone noticing.

              And why bother if it's already available at both the hardware and OS level anyways?

            5. stanimir

              Re: Is a compromise possible?

              only accessible via an 'encryption' gate at the hardware level, this would prevent remote access to the data if you don't have the key.

              Hardware and software are not that different in terms of Mathematics (and physics). People use(d) to reverse engineer chips via microscopes.

              The information is there (stored in some way) and if you need some 'master key' to "unlock" the hardware, it's no different than "just" software.

          2. Cynic_999 Silver badge

            Re: Nope, don't care

            UK police already have the option under RIPA of demanding that a suspect give the police whatever is needed to access their data, with up to 5 years jail time if they refuse. So where is the evidence that that power is insufficient in all but the most exceptional and rare cases?

            The big problem for me is that I do not trust the police to use any power appropriately or proportionately, and nor do I trust the government not to pass immoral and repressive laws. The temptation to have a trawl through a suspect's phone just to see what it might turn up is great - and a suspect is anyone who the police believe *might* have committed an illegal act, no matter how trivial. Such as drinking in a pub after closing hours (phone data may well be able to prove that). Councils will be keen to get evidence to fine people for putting rubbish in the wrong bin, or sending their children to a school that is not full of drug-addicted juvenile delinquents (with the pupils being almost as bad).

            IIRC the very first prosecution that resulted from the first roll-out of government operated CCTV cameras was that of a pub landlord of a village who was overly generous with the drinking-up time he allowed. Which was not at all the sort of crime the locals who had welcomed the camera had wanted it to be used against. I certainly would not be surprised if any powers the government has to seize phone data is used to prosecute parking offenders.

        5. LucreLout Silver badge

          Re: Nope, don't care

          @AndrewDu

          Until the definition of "criminals" is expanded by the elites to include something you didn't expect, and then you're toast.

          Elite is a computer game.

          If the state arbitrarily decide the law doesn't apply to it, then it can just lock you up for anything or nothing anyway, thus it is no more of a risk.

        6. cyfahead

          Re: Nope, don't care

          RE; AndrewDu " " It removes the benefits of encryption accruing to criminals without harming the rest of us."

          Until the definition of "criminals" is expanded by the elites to include something you didn't expect, and then you're toast. "

          Speaking of 'toast'.. and the world of 'political economy' and why we do what we do and how we go about doing it.

          Far and away the largest chunk of terrorism and general anarchy is rooted in the sense of hopelessness generated by a total distrust in the validity of the philosophies and logic upon which 'modern economics' rests and upon which the increasingly small proportion of mankind which benefits from it relies for its 'moral authority' to keep things arranged as they are and to brook no dissent whilst at the same time engaging in sweet words and rhetoric as a Machiavellian exercise in good governance.

          Remove the hopelessness by aligning the goals and actions of all the institutions of state and commerce, everywhere, to the enlightened moral precepts of the 21st century, which everyone claims to subscribe to, then you will remove 99% of terrorism and the need for this debate. We can all have our privacy, subject to 'probable cause' and limited to physical access and search of living space. Everybody would be able to live and do the real jobs they expected to do, with the freedom and the security they expect.

          In the respected world of serious study and analyses, the Georgian and Victorian precepts of morality that provide the inescapable context of the logic underpinning the whole of neoclassical 'modern economics', as well as Marx's Communism and Liberal Socialism and Social Democracy, is well recognised to be 'houses of cards' al built on the same invalid and inappropriate idealised model of an 'economic man'. For us today, the imagined 'free markets' through which they exchange and distribute the products of their particular specialisations to their mutual and fairly distributed individual advantage have been shown not to exist. Not then and not now, and not likely to. Without a complete rethink and rebuild/redirection of the plethora of political and commercial institutions which have been built on those archaic and naive premises.

          Unfortunately for us all those same institutions that have grown up to support a system which concentrates wealth and power to an increasingly small fraction of people are the realm of those same people. Their moral super-hero is the idealised 'economic man' exercising rationality and self-interest in all his unfettered and minimally controlled activities. Be they activities involving production, exchange and distribution, or consumption.

          Both sides of this crypto debate are in the same camp. It is logical and rational for app and device makers to protect their own commercial interests and not compromise security demanded by you and I. In their role of being agents of a power hegemony fully convinced by the benefits of its own self-righteousness, our security forces must see their need for ubiquitously broken crypto products as logical and rational in their self-interest to be seen to be defending successfully those that reward them for doing so.

          The real question is not the short-term one of 'Which is right?' but the long-term question of 'Are either of them right?' and if not 'Should not both them be actively seeking to bring their moral precepts into line with those of the 21st Century and seeking to modify our social, commercial and political institutions to achieve, support the and develop the universal and global application of those goals of equality, brotherhood and liberty which once were conceived as applying in practice to only an educated and commercially successful, largely hereditary, elite?'.

          If we cannot expect such an introspection and 'epiphanal' conviction of spirit and the actions to demonstrate it from those who are the receptacles of the accruing concentrations of the wealth and power that are needed to make those changes in an evolutionary but rapid and deterministic way, then there will inevitably be those whose lives are so dire and hopeless that there will be those who, struck by empathy and a sense of injustice and convinced of their own ability to challenge its causes by publicising to the iniquitous the iniquity seen. They will seek to chip away at their comfortable self-righteousness using whatever misguided, misconceived and desperate ways as would seem proportional to the scale of the stasis amongst those that can and should be the ones acting positively to facilitate real change.

          Whether or not broken crypto? It is a mere sideshow. It has no logical resolution and has no moral precepts to choose between for the most powerful protagonists share the same 17th Century philosophical foundation. It can only be resolved by paradigm shift and an update of governance and commercial practices in governments and boardrooms to be in line with the rhetoric expressed in the hustings and by corporate spin doctors.

          Rather tie your elected 'representatives' in knots of inescapable logic than entangle hexcodes and electron spins. Rather find ways of creating a democracy that controls governance in the interests and for the well-being of every person and not primarily in the interests of the few people who seek to influence and control 'our' representatives by feeding their personal senses of well-being with candy and cake.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Nope, don't care

            thats a bit long - howabout some bullet points for those of us without the time to read it all

      3. Woodnag

        Re: Nope, don't care

        "If the authorities can persuade a judge to grant them lawful access to your data, then they have the right to access it. If you decline to co-operate and open your devices, then you can stay in jail until you abide by the warrant."

        Sorry, too many compliant judges, too many warrant issued without genuine PC. You need to have the right to challenge the warrant before cooperating.

        1. LucreLout Silver badge

          Re: Nope, don't care

          @Woodnag

          Sorry, too many compliant judges, too many warrant issued without genuine PC. You need to have the right to challenge the warrant before cooperating.

          You can't challenge a search warrant for your home before it is issued, so sorry, you're out of luck here too.

        2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: Nope, don't care

          You need to have the right to challenge the warrant before cooperating.

          And the warrants have to be public. Secret warrants are nearly as bad as no warrants at all. Get rid of the gag orders and the National Security Letters and the rest of the cloak-and-dagger bullshit.

          Does that compromise investigations? Yes, and too fucking bad. The police state can't be trusted; it's demonstrated that time and time again.

      4. matchbx
        Big Brother

        Re: Nope, don't care

        "Obviously, careful oversight and monitoring would be required, but being innocent of that of which you are suspected and having your data searched is not radically different from being innocent and having your home searched."

        the main problem here is at some point in the future some government agency will circumvent the "careful oversight". and they will have a really good reason for doing so.

      5. Justicesays

        Re: Nope, don't care

        "If the authorities can persuade a judge to grant them lawful access to your data, then they have the right to access it. If you decline to co-operate and open your devices, then you can stay in jail until you abide by the warrant. It removes the benefits of encryption accruing to criminals without harming the rest of us."

        Police: We found this (old) smartphone in your kitchen drawer, looks like it's encrypted.

        Tell us the password.

        You: Erm, I stopped using that phone 3 years ago, I don't remember the password.

        Police: Likely story, this is your jihadi/drug/pedo phone, right? Off to the nick with you until you give us the goods.

        Plus issues around old people, people being set up with phones posted to them in the mail, random phones at a scene being associated with you. Police willing to perjure themselves who *think* you are a danger to society getting you indefinitely imprisoned without trial by claiming a random phone is yours and having the whole justice system back that imprisonment.

        I don't think it's a great plan personally.

        1. LucreLout Silver badge

          Re: Nope, don't care

          I don't think it's a great plan personally.

          As opposed to having encryption banned for public use, which is very much the way the wind is blowing, I think it sounds bloody marvelous.

          All I'd have to do was factory reset any phone I was finished with and I'm free and clear, quite aside from the phone not having contacted a network in forever, having no incoming or outgoing calls or data - which could be verified by the networks.

          Same for mailing someone a phone and dobbing them in - it'd be easy to verify it's not their phone, just as mailing someone a kilo of coke isn't going to see them jailed.

          1. Vic

            Re: Nope, don't care

            As opposed to having encryption banned for public use, which is very much the way the wind is blowing

            That won't happen.

            They'll make lots of noise about it, then someone will point out that such measures would entirely destroy the Digital Economy. Politicians love the Digital Economy.

            This will all blow over. It is magical thinking, and eventually the pollies will be shown that what they want is impossible, and attempting to achieve it will not only fail miserably, but will cause such fall-out that they will never get another Executive Directorship as long as they live.

            Vic.

            1. LucreLout Silver badge

              Re: Nope, don't care

              @Vic

              That won't happen.

              I agree, it won't.

              It is magical thinking

              Certainly, it is magical, but I'm not sure how much thinking of any kind they've done.

              eventually the pollies will be shown that what they want is impossible, and attempting to achieve it will not only fail miserably, but will cause such fall-out that they will never get another Executive Directorship as long as they live.

              Yup. which is when some devious bastard will cotton on to what I've suggested and change the law such that they achieve most of what they want but without the broken encryption. The UK already has enacted the law as I've proposed it, only with a few years penalty rather than indefinite detention. It'll come, sooner or later, it'll come.

              While I WILL continue to use strong encryption in spite of any ban, I would also, when given a straight choice of unlocking the device/vob or sitting in a cell until I do.... well, I'd unlock the device. Why? I actually don't have anything to hide form the law but I do have things I'd prefer to keep private from public knowledge.... like my savings account balance/numbers, or photos of my kids.

        2. cyfahead

          Re: Nope, don't care

          As an 'old person' I can attest to the fact that I frequently lose 'sight' of my cellphone/tablet/glasses/wallet/toothbrush/Banking PIN/..... You name it I have forgotten it. I could easily get jailed and I do not even have Alzheimer's!

          The upside is that I believe 'white-collar' places of detention are run to a much higher standard than are required of those run by the 'old age care industry'!!! And.. they don't make you sell your house to pay for your upkeep!!!

      6. king_tut

        Re: Nope, don't care

        > You can secure your home against unwanted entry, but you cannot refuse to comply with a search warrant. Why then can the same not be held true for encrypted data?

        You're referring to a RIPA part 3 warrant. Which is and has been used. While it has been used to put some child-porn people in jail IIRC (as the maximum sentence under RIPA part 3 is less than that from kiddie porn), there's also claims that some of the people affected were innocent of anything other than being tinfoil-hat wearing paranoids.

      7. Jack of Shadows Silver badge
        Windows

        Re: Nope, don't care

        @LucreLout I'm very much a non-terrorist but if you are making over my cryptographic systems and their keys, good luck with that. I do not, emphatically not, with access to notes, conjectures, or systems in the hands of any government official. Ever. Fortunately, my government has shown itself and I won't be making a mistake of there.

        Yep, lock me up. It won't bother me at all. Might even extend my life span having medical care close to hand. Oh yes, forgot solitary. Who knows what I might pass someone.

        /sarcasw ??? Perhaps. I got a good chuckle out of four digit PIN code. Treat me nice and I can show ya sum neet trix. On second thought, you won't see that either.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Nope, don't care

      I truly believe more harm than good comes out of broken encryption.

      FTFY

      It's the green eyed monster making all this fuss.

      The fix is in. Certain governments and their agencies already broke the public capto - at spec and at source. The police services of those governments are well aware of this, not least because they're fed a stream of intelligence gleaned from the TLA's wholesale subversion of the publicly disseminated cryptography. To their obvious and festering chagrin, the police, courts, etc are not permitted direct access to these "intelligence" sources. One might perhaps suppose that someone, somewhere, is trying to suppress widespread knowledge of the surveillance. But the police services know it exists. FBI, DEA, etc even indulge in programs of fit-ups which they call "parallel construction" whereby they frame suspects with falsified "evidence" to secure convictions based on those "intelligence" rumours. It is not unreasonable to conclude that the directors of these police services would rather have their own feeds of mass surveillance, and all this shouting from those very people would appear to support that conclusion.

      Since this sort of comment seems to invariably attract vigorous downvoting and heckling from the apologist/ostrich/fuckwit types, I'll throw in a handful of links for their enjoyment:

      http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/09/05/nsa_gchq_ssl_reports/

      http://www.theregister.co.uk/2015/01/14/nsa_sorry_we_borked_nist_encryption_well_sorry_we_got_caught/

      http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/06/05/how_the_interenet_was_broken/

      http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/02/27/qa_schneier_on_trust_nsa_spying_and_the_end_of_us_internet_hegemony/

      https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2013/09/the_nsa_is_brea.html

      http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/09/05/us/documents-reveal-nsa-campaign-against-encryption.html?_r=1&

      http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/08/05/us-dea-sod-idUSBRE97409R20130805#y8DElyerFGTHMluq.97

      https://theintercept.com/2014/08/25/icreach-nsa-cia-secret-google-crisscross-proton/

    3. DougS Silver badge

      That list of "horror stories"

      Do we want a terrorist, child abuser or murderer to go free because the authorities lacked access to someone's phone? No, of course not. Is it worth opening up our devices to hackers to do so? Or even if they could create a "perfect" back door, to potential (virtually certain, IMHO) unauthorized access by the government outside search warrants? After all, the US at least has proven it doesn't care about the limitations the Constitution is supposed to place on such things.

      The entire argument is a strawman. Let's say as an experiment a Constitutional amendment was passed where in the month of December every person on American soil had to have a personal spy (lets say it was possible to do with robots, since hiring 350 million Chinese to do this might be slightly impractical) with them 24x7 observing all their activities looking for things they are doing that are against the law. Imagine the long list of murders prevented, child abusers caught and perhaps even terrorist plots foiled! So why won't we pass such a law, since it will keep us so much safer?

      Does anyone think that if such a law existed, it would be limited to looking for only "bad" crimes like terrorism and child porn? Even if it was at first, the scope would creep so it would eventually be looking for small time drug dealers or public urinators. Likely it would be further abused by those in power to maintain their power - imagine the dirt a President could dig up on those running against him? Even Putin doesn't have that level of power!

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: That list of "horror stories"

        Do we want a terrorist, child abuser or murderer to go free because the authorities lacked access to someone's phone? No, of course not.

        There's no "of course" about it. I'd argue Blackstone's Ratio applies here too. I think there should be quite a high bar to prying into people's personal effects, and I'm quite happy to see the occasional J. Random Hypothetical Baddie escape justice if that means civil rights are preserved for the rest of us.

        I find these prosecutorial "think of the criminals" arguments woefully uncompelling. Kieren called Vance's list of bugbears "harrowing"; I think that description is hyperbolic to the point of stupidity. Yes, these are examples of people who, if they did what they are accused of, deserve punishment, and I have sympathy for the victims. But squealing with dismay and collapsing on our settees at the thought of the evildoers in our midst, from whom our only defense is smartphone data, greatly overstates the virtues of the surveillance state.

    4. FreemonSandlewould

      Re: Nope, don't care

      It all comes down to if the state is more important than the individual. It is not. Thus strong encryption.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    American prosecutor / Lebanese coder?

    the article ends with a question: effectively, who is making the better argument and which of their cases stands up? Both do, but in the case of the prosecutor, I find it harder to agree unless his suggestion of warrant, in front of a judge or court, showing probable cause, becomes what is required. Not blanket surveillance just in case, and not "reasonable suspicion" - unless there are safeguards that say, for example, if no grounds for suspicion then everything collected must be destroyed (not kept on file just in case, the way some Orwellian bureaucrats/politicians allowed DNA records to be retained in their jurisdictions) or if the "reasonable" suspicion is unreasonable then take action against those requesting it ...

    1. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge
      Childcatcher

      Re: American prosecutor / Lebanese coder?

      ...but in the case of the prosecutor, I find it harder to agree unless his suggestion of warrant, in front of a judge or court, showing probable cause, becomes what is required.

      In all cases? In all jurisdictions? This is the proverbial bridge too far. Can we simultaneously prevent our political adversaries some foreign, repressive regime from using the tools we want to have for their own goals while allowing ourselves unfettered access to those same resources? Nope. If a skeleton key exists, then the knowledge of its existence is enough to allow someone with enough resources to recreate it. The alternative is to allow potential terrorists to have secure comms. Is that acceptable? Again, no. What to do?

      The question seems to come down to, "Do we opt to protect our citizens from hostile state entities or from terrorists?" Solving this dilemma is the main challenge from the perspective of western governments. The two goals are mutually exclusive as stated, so either the question needs to be re-framed or it needs to be answered in terms of acceptable long-term risk (e.g. which is likely to cause the least amount of damage over the next decade).

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: American prosecutor / Lebanese coder?

      The mathematics of encryption is a pure, mostly black and white science, whereas public policy, safety, the social contract and regulations are not.

      For all its dangers, IS is not a credible military threat to the West in the same way as the Kaiser, Wehrmacht, Japan and the Red Army were at various points in history. In fact, for the time being, IS is more of a growing annoyance in pure military terms. They could be virtually eliminated with a full-blown, concerted military campaign in Syria and full shakedown of their local networks (which is slowly happening). If things get any worse, carving up Syria "a la Berlin" by the Russians, French, Brits and Americans is a more likely and effective outcome than global weakening of encryption.

      Like travel advisories and other security theatre, the "badness of encryption" is basically more noise generated by opportunistic politicians with access to free speech, news media coverage and faulty (or deliberately misunderstood) technology advice. It cranks up the overall level of public anxiety and gives terr groups the validity and relevancy they crave. As a selective bonus, it provides corrupt elites with a chance to impose more draconian measures in the name of "security".

      The terrs know this too. They would love to see Western democracies continue to shoot themselves in the feet with misguided, reactive, ineffective legislation and contradictory policy that eventually pisses off 99.9% of an already weary public. So far, they seem to be winning on that front. Since one of the stated objectives of IS is to breakdown Western democracy and impose Sharia law everywhere, it's a pretty good active/passive aggression strategy. Divide and conquer works both ways.

      Broken encryption is effectively no encryption at all. It will result in infinitely more danger and harm than that caused by brainwashed lunatics occasionally willing to die for their cause. The ability to read everyone's secrets, emails and contact lists will not prevent these atrocities from happening. Instead, it will cripple the digital economy and send already spiraling cyber crime rates out of control. Anyone advocating the banning or weakening of encryption is either technologically ignorant or malicious.

      When encryption is illegal (or weakened) only criminals will have (strong) encryption. Since we don't live in a completely safe world and never will, it just doesn't compute. I don't want unsafe encryption that allows criminals to break into my paypal account, steal my company's commercial secrets or my passwords. I want encryption so strong that no one can break into my PayPal account (including me when I forget my password). If the powers that be need to look into my account, there are laws for that (and warrants) where I would be compelled to let them. If they can't break into my account (because I am dead, non compos mentis, or whatever) that means the evidence is effectively destroyed, which also used to happen before technology became so ubiquitous.

      The fundamental issue here is one of trust. Citizens in "free" democracies no longer trust their leaders to do the right thing, which is the real problem. Companies have responded to their customer's concerns and deployed unbroken encryption in response. Now most of us continue to believe we can choose what to say and think. The next step should be to vote in some competent leaders.

      And as pointed out in the article, citizens in not-so-free societies also use tools like encryption to protect themselves from government repression or worse.

      On the other hand, brainwashed murderers continue to use clear text messages, machine guns and explosives to kill innocent people. Strong encryption probably just slows them down. The terrs actions say it all. They want to be SEEN and NOTICED. This way they can gain attention and widely broadcast their perverted message, not hide their actions. They probably say a prayer every night that the 10 o'clock news will continue its assistance in terrorizing the public.

      Democratic societies have continued to function under even the most dire conditions without full police powers and the complete suspension of civil liberties. In past states of war, some fundamental civil rights were repressed, even suspended. But overall, no one ever really expected it to become a permanent state of affairs. "Temporary" technology workarounds have a very nasty habit of becoming permanent, which is why no sane tech company wants to implement back-doors into its security products.

      And personally, I fail to see how the current situation can even compare with the existential threats experienced during two previous World Wars where similar actions were taken.

      And now, "free" democratic powers are looking for the same power over their citizens as "not-so-free" governments. Does anyone see the issue here? Our remaining democratic leaders really need to think this through. We really need to help them by continuing to speak up.

  3. xj650t

    Is this even a question?

    The Lebanese coder is right.

    If we, that's us upstanding citizens, are forced to use weakened encryption that's breakable by Government level agencies, then how long does our data stay safe from little Timmy the script kiddie next door with a stolen credit card and access to AWS GPU instances?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Is this even a question?

      It typically takes 10-30yrs. It has been this way since the 70s. Have you not noticed yet?

  4. OzBob

    The government has gotten lazy

    from being able to collect all this information from a distance. It's human beings that ultimately do the bad deeds, so get some tradecraft back into intelligence gathering, infiltrate and manipulate, bribe and misdirect, and do the hard yards.

    1. InfiniteApathy
      Thumb Up

      Re: The government has gotten lazy

      Too damn right.

      Encrypt the whole lot - as a free and open society it is of most benefit to us and the greatest detriment to fascists and dictators the world over.

      Deploy the resources back into meat space and re-learn all the hard lessons we've forgotten.

  5. Tony S

    The light of other days

    A novel by A C Clarke puts this into perspective; a new technology eliminates the possibility for any privacy at all. I have a copy and it makes for very interesting reading

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Light_of_Other_Days

    I would ask one question of those in favour of any plan to reduce or remove encryption: "would you give me access to all of your details, all of your online life, or of your personal activities?". If their response in "No" or they hesitate to answer, then my answer to them is that they can take their proposal and shove it where the sun don't shine.

    (But if they said "Yes" then I probably wouldn't believe them as they clearly didn't understand the consequences and therefore are not in any position to be making these decisions; so they can still do the necessary with their proposal)

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A table from the Manhattan District Attorney ...

    He is lying. Openly.

    He deliberately differentiates between Google/Apple/Etc Cloud (the customer facing portion) and the data Google, Apple, etc collect on a customer for monetization purposes. Most of what he has flagged as NO or Perhaps is available from Google, Apple, etc via a court order.

    1. Historical other cell tower related data is available from Google - it is part of data collected for aGPS positioning via WiFi. That however will require subpoena and/or court order.

    2. SMS content is available from phone company as per local data retention requirements - usually 3 months +. That however will require subpoena and/or court order.

    3. Historical WiFi network data is definitely available from Google and Apple as well as other providers as it submitted to all and sundry. No perhaps. That however will require subpoena and/or court order.

    4. Historical GPS or other satellite data - Google definitely. That is today 70%+ of the traffic data utilized in Google maps. Apple - most likely as well. If you have any of the maps apps running you will be leaving GPS crumbs in their cloud. Again - subpoena and/or court order.

    5. Internet search history, bookmarks and third party app data - that can be obtained from Google too. With a subpoena and/or court order of course.

    All in all, he needs to comply with the law of the land, not invent law for himself and go get a court order and stop complaining.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A table from the Manhattan District Attorney ...

      If you have any of the maps apps running you will be leaving GPS crumbs in their cloud. - you will also be leaving a trail of this combined with cell site data as a part of the WiFi data. Once again - court order and Google will spit it out.

      All in all this means that instead of the chum relationship long established between law enforcement and major telcos, the law will need to go to a different place to get the data. It is either Google or Apple. It will however need to be the law (at least for now - until they establish the same level of chumminess)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A table from the Manhattan District Attorney ...

      'SMS content is available from phone company'

      Not neccesarily true. Some states only mandate metadata collection.

      'Historical GPS or other satellite data - Google definitely.'

      'Internet search history, bookmarks'

      Neither of these are available for me, I have GPS tracking turned off, and don't use a web browser on my 'phone

    3. Alistair Silver badge
      Windows

      Re: A table from the Manhattan District Attorney ...

      I don't know about anyone else on these fora, but my tinfoil hat makes me turn OFF all the "Help us make this better by reporting" buttons on my phone, so, no google/apple very likely DON'T have that data.

      I leave GPS off unless I specifically need mapping. And being a TECHIE wearing a Tinfoil Hat I have the tools to make sure it stays that way installed.

      I sure as hell don't save internet history to the "cloud" end of my browser.

      Interestingly, primary fallout from trying not to let all this leak backwards is that I get some truly ironic ad's thrown at me.

  7. DropBear Silver badge
    Big Brother

    "where we end up on encryption will come from a combination of policy and commercial pressures"

    No, really not it wont. Others may do as they wish, I won't be waiting for others to decide for me - I insist on using it. And if they make it illegal, I'll just hide using it - steganography and hidden volumes FTW. And not because I actually do have anything worth spying on - but because I don't recognize anyone's authority to strip me of my privacy, regardless the circumstances. If they want to find out about me, they're welcome to do what a proper gumshoe has to do: follow me around all day in person. But what they really want to do is fish around from an armchair, isn't it? Soz, I'll have none of that, kthxbye.

    1. LucreLout Silver badge

      @DropBear

      Others may do as they wish, I won't be waiting for others to decide for me - I insist on using it. And if they make it illegal, I'll just hide using it - steganography and hidden volumes FTW.

      I won't. I'll continue using it in plain sight and let them come for me if they must. I cannot store my data securely in the cloud without encryption.

      Speeding is illegal but the vast majority of people continue to do it. Drugs are illegal etc etc I don't see this being any different - people will just do as we've always done and ignore the state.

      1. Domino
        Unhappy

        Speeding is illegal

        And so much easier to prosecute when people carry their own GPS tracker for average speed checks.

    2. Mark 65 Silver badge

      I believe where we will end up on encryption will be exactly where we are today. You cannot uninvent it. You cannot remove the many reference implementations like GPG/PGP. The mathematics is well known. You can mandate in law what you want, who cares? Breakable encryption will just result in the failure of their precious propped-up banks as any transaction can be MITM'd. No company will want to implement a busted system as they will become the next MySpace to a foreign upstart that refuses. Encryption is here to stay and I, for one, am glad of that no matter who may choose to use it for nefarious purposes.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        You cannot uninvent it. You cannot remove the many reference implementations like GPG/PGP. The mathematics is well known.

        Some algorithms, like RC4,1 are simple enough that many people could implement them (or something close) from memory. RC4's inner loop is really simple. For asymmetric encryption, RSA2 is easy to reinvent for most people who have gone over the description a few times.

        I'm sure some folks here remember the "munitions" t-shirts with RC4 printed on them.

        1Yes, RC4 is now considered "unsafe" for general use, due to various issues with key-keystream correlations and some less-important factors. But in practice it's often good enough, since a particular application may not expose enough keystream to be problematic (particularly if a drop-N protocol is used).

        2Again, problematic, if you have high-value data and an attacker with generous resources. But usually you don't.

    3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      And if they make it illegal, I'll just hide using it - steganography and hidden volumes FTW

      Deniable encryption might be a better plan. "Oh, sure, here's the key. As you can see, with that key the ciphertext decrypts into 100GB of family photos."

      Perhaps there's another key that extracts a different (and much smaller, but 100GB is a lot of room to play with) plaintext, but let them prove it. They demanded a key, and you provided one.

      Advantages over steganography are that deniable encryption is harder to demonstrate (fewer statistical anomalies and the like to detect), and you can demonstrate compliance with a court order, which puts the authorities in the awkward position of trying to convince a judge that, no, they think there's yet another layer.

  8. jake Silver badge

    Bottom line is ...

    ... strong encryption exists, and is in the wild.

    There is absolutely nothing that worldwide.gov can do about it.

    EOF

    1. LucreLout Silver badge

      Re: Bottom line is ...

      @Jake

      There is absolutely nothing that worldwide.gov can do about it.

      Sure there is, it's just that we won't like it.

      Invade the firmware on any device sold in your territory and you can capture any keys being used and decrypt at your leisure. As I said, we won't like it, but there is plenty they can do - Snowden rendered that in brilliant clarity.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Bottom line is ...

        > Invade the firmware on any device sold in your territory and you can capture any keys being used and decrypt at your leisure.

        Until you deploy a software countermeasure, which is much easier than deploying a (hostile) firmware counter-countermeasure.

        1. LucreLout Silver badge

          Re: Bottom line is ...

          @AC

          Until you deploy a software countermeasure, which is much easier than deploying a (hostile) firmware counter-countermeasure.

          I completely agree, but in that vein, it's easier to go to the moon than to Mars, the problem is most people aren't astronauts.

          Yes, it will be much easier to do as you describe, but that will be so far beyond the capabilities of most people that it doesn't matter.

          I wouldn't have a clue about deploying countermeasures into the firmware of my phone/laptop/router etc.and I don't know anyone who could. Obviously many people reading this are that person who can, but that puts them/you into a very small special case.

      2. Mark 65 Silver badge

        Re: Bottom line is ...

        Invade the firmware on any device sold in your territory and you can capture any keys being used and decrypt at your leisure.

        Like routers? Where you can just flash with OpenWRT?

        1. Alistair Silver badge
          Windows

          Re: Bottom line is ...

          See:

          Trans Pacific Partnership.

          < they're trying to do something about that>

      3. jake Silver badge

        Re: Bottom line is ...

        Horseshit, LucreLout.

        I have hardware that will never have that issue (can't have that issue, actually), and will always have Internet connectivity. But then I'm not a consumer.

        Not that I give a rat's ass. T'eh Gubmint is welcome to poke around here as they see fit. I'm not doing anything illegal, immoral, or fattening.

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: Bottom line is ...

          >strong encryption exists, and is in the wild. There is absolutely nothing that worldwide.gov can do about it.

          Hit you with spanners until you unlock it? (Apologies to XKCD)

        2. LucreLout Silver badge

          Re: Bottom line is ...

          @Jake

          I have hardware that will never have that issue (can't have that issue, actually), and will always have Internet connectivity. But then I'm not a consumer.

          ALL your hardware? Are you sure? And unless you plan on custom building everything you ever use, then you're shit out of luck.

          1. jake Silver badge

            @ LucreLout (was: Re: Bottom line is ...)

            "ALL your hardware?"

            I did not say that. Please learn to read for context. Ta.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bottom line is ...

      There is absolutely nothing that worldwide.gov can do about it.

      Haven't you noticed the war on TrueCrypt?

    3. GrumpenKraut Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Bottom line is ...

      Beat me to it, that's exactly what I was going to say. To add a bit: the consequences of forbidding it might resemble those of forbidding alcohol consumption.

      This is the 24th November of 2015 and I gave jake and upvote.

      1. Vic

        Re: Bottom line is ...

        This is the 24th November of 2015 and I gave jake and upvote.

        Scary, isn't it?

        Vic.

  9. JASR

    Fingerprint unlock

    Most new smartphones have a backdoor - fingerprint access.

    Unless the criminal's body is mangled, then it would be trivial to obtain fingerprints of a suspects digits, transpose them to a gummi bear and unlock.

    Unless the criminal has had time to shutdown their phone - which generally disables the fingerprint unlock on initial boot.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Fingerprint unlock

      You also can't claim to have "forgotten my password m'lud"...

      They're also all invariably woefully insecure toys: Fine against unsophisticated siblings but piss all against government agencies, organised crime and the like.

    2. Mark 65 Silver badge

      Re: Fingerprint unlock

      Just don't set it up. It's really not a convenience.

  10. Ole Juul Silver badge

    non-parallel

    The American prosecutor seems to think that it is possible to solve or prevent 100% of all crimes. That is a fallacy and would lead to a society where civilized people would not want to live. He quotes examples of individual cases as if a single one will be relevant to this discussion. This is not about cases, but about principles. This article is pitting the impossible dream of one man against the rights of all humans.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: non-parallel

      "This article is pitting the impossible dream of one man against the rights of all humans."

      If only it was just one man...

      I can't help but think that all this nonsense about ban on encryption or introduction of back doors is a decoy. The powers that be cannot possibly be that stupid *and* deaf? They must have heard plenty of voices by now which point out how ludicrous (and impossible) the ideas are?

      Then again, maybe western governments are really that dumb and corrupt and willing to sacrifice all the freedom we have left... At that point terrorists will have won.

  11. Alan Brown Silver badge

    Misses the point

    Under UK (and many other countries) law, if a judge orders that you decrypt your phone (or other data) and you don't, it's potential jailtime until you do (Contempt of court - indefinite detention). RIPA actually _reduces_ the potential exposure in such cases by having a set penalty for refusing to decrypt.

    Under USA law there's a right to not self-incriminate (5th amendment), but once that's taken you have to stay schtum about it forever. Being caught blabbing in a different location means you can be hauled back in the original case and compelled to speak(*). What that could mean under some interpretations is that the moment you decrypt your phone (or any other crypted stuff) after "taking the 5th", any such legal protection is null and void - effectively by using that legal protection you've thrown away the key on your own future access to any data you may have encrypted (and possibly locked yourself off from ever using encryption again - which is difficult in today's society given crypto's pervasiveness).

    (*) I wasn't aware of this aspect until it was pointed out in analysis of the Prenda cases that the fact that they'd relied on taking the 5th in one case meant that they couldn't use anything related to the matters they'd taken the 5th about in any other circumstances without blowing their legal protection apart.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Misses the point

      "Under USA law there's a right to not self-incriminate"

      Rules of evidence in England, Wales & N Ireland (I don't know about Scotland) amount to much the same thing. The police caution starts "You have the right ot remain silent".

      There could be an interesting situation here. If a suspect gives up his key under a judicial instruction could the phone's contents then be used in evidence against him? ISTM that this is an issue that could go right up the court hierarchy.

      1. Mark 65 Silver badge

        Re: Misses the point

        I think the whole point with RIPA and the minimal number of prosecutions under it were that they just haven't tried to prosecute an individual with the right financial resources yet. Once they do, I think you'll find it isn't fit for purpose. The mere concept of having to prove you've forgotten something is just kindergarten logic - what fucking 'tard came up with that?

        1. Vic

          Re: Misses the point

          what fucking 'tard came up with that?

          Someone who got what he wanted...

          Vic.

      2. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

        Re: Misses the point

        @Doctor Syntax

        Yes, you have the right to remain silent. But for some years now the prosecution can then make nasty comments in court that you have not co-operated.

        Whether a jury will go along with that probably depends on lots of other things.

        1. ScottAS2

          Re: Misses the point

          This is why the caution continues "...but it may harm your defence if you do not mention, when questioned, something which you later rely on in court." Not only can you be portrayed as uncooperative, the crown can imply that a later answer is untruthful, because you did not mention it at the earliest possible time. For instance, if you are asked "where were you on the night of the crime?", and do not comment, the jury may be asked to look askance at your claim in court that you were at home commenting on El Reg.

          This doesn't, incidentally, apply in Scotland, where no adverse inferences may be drawn from an accused's failure to answer any question put to them. Thus, the police caution in Scotland is the much shorter: "You do not have to say anything, but anything you do say will be noted and may be used in evidence."

      3. phil dude
        Mushroom

        Re: Misses the point

        @Doctor Syntax "Rules of evidence in England, Wales & N Ireland (I don't know about Scotland) amount to much the same thing. The police caution starts "You have the right ot remain silent".

        No you don't. " but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court"

        Are those nipple clamps tight enough?

        P.

      4. Adam Inistrator

        Re: Misses the point

        ""You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.""

        "BUT IT MAY HARM YOUR DEFENCE"

        this was added about 10 years ago I believe

        very slimey

  12. scrubber
    Facepalm

    I need a new irony meter

    A DA in New York is saying that China needs to come to a US court to decrypt a phone while the same New York is trying to force Microsoft to go against Irish and EU laws to hand over data stored in Ireland?

    As for the examples:

    A murder that already had eye witnesses;

    Circumstantial evidence from a conversation between two people;

    A picture... woo-hoo;

    A picture showing a man with prostitutes, the women in the photos could testify to that;

    A waiter was already a suspect, would have been broken in interrogation;

    A murder suspect cleared, but they'd have gotten off anyway as you had no evidence to convict, no?

    A despicable, despicable man.

    1. teebie

      Re: I need a new irony meter

      "A murder suspect cleared,"

      Also the suspect was welcome at any time to unencrypt his phone if he felt the need to show his innocence. So the only thing access to the phone gave them was the incentive to stop questioning the wrong suspect, and start focusing on actual evidence.

  13. Neil Lewis

    Believe a lawyer? Please.

    For a lawyer, lying (or at the very least, hiding parts of the truth which don't support your own point of view) is a career choice.

    1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

      Re: Believe a lawyer? Please.

      "

      For a lawyer, lying (or at the very least, hiding parts of the truth which don't support your own point of view) is a career choice.

      "

      You could say the same about a policeman, politician, salesman or business executive.

  14. Graham Marsden
    Holmes

    "the cases did not depend on it"

    And that's the fundamental issue, the Prosecutor just wants us all to make his life easier and that trumps our right not to have the State snoop on us and keep our private details *private*.

    Well sorry, Mr Cyrus Vance Jr, but those of us who understand the importance of privacy aren't going to be bounced into giving up our protections simply because "Terrorists and Paedophiles and Sex Traffickers, Oh My!"

  15. John H Woods Silver badge

    I'm very glad to see...

    ... we can so effectively legislate against strong encryption because the corollary is, once such cat re-bagging and bolted horse re-stabling statutes have been perfected, we'll be able to neutralize the threat of nuclear weapons by forbidding knowledge of fission; furthermore, banning all understanding of highly exothermic chemical reactions will put an end to the explosive ambitions of terrorists!

  16. PassiveSmoking

    The elephant in the room

    The thing that nobody seems to want to discuss at this point is the simple fact that at least half the Paris attackers were already known to authorities, said authorities had been alerted to the threat they posed by Turkey, and their activities had been tracked for at least a year in some cases prior to the attacks. They already had a wealth of information on these guys, none of which was encrypted, and there were alarm bells ringing that seem to have been ignored.

    If the security services can drop the ball so badly when there's plenty of information available saying "Hey, these guys might be planning something awful" then why would having access to even more data ensure that such a tragedy can't be repeated in the future?

    Maybe the security services need to learn to effectively use the cornucopia of data they have at their disposal already before demanding access to even more.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Big Brother

      Re: The elephant in the room

      I think you've missed the point. THEY DON'T FUCKING CARE.

      In fact, all the failures like this seem to be welcomed as bargaining tools for grabs for EVER MORE USELESS SURVEILLANCE AND ASSOCIATED FUNDING.

      It's COMPLETELY out of control.

    2. John Sanders
      Big Brother

      Re: The elephant in the room

      """The thing that nobody seems to want to discuss at this point is the simple fact that at least half the Paris attackers were already known to authorities."""

      Political correctness will be the death of us all. Mark my words.

  17. theOtherJT

    We should be talking about money

    Politicians like money. They understand money. You weaken encryption standards? We steal all your money. It's that simple.

    You know that little machine you put your credit card in at that nice restaurant last night? You know how that works? Encryption.

    Remember when you booked a cab on the internet the other week? Encryption.

    That record you bought on Amazon? Encryption.

    Traded stocks recently? Surprise! Encryption there too.

    You ruin encryption, all that good stuff has to go away. Fuck with encryption and all indirect, non-cash commerce is going to have to go away, and trust me, that's going to be a damn sight worse for the overall prosperity of your country than anything that angry young men with bullets and explosives can achieve.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: We should be talking about money

      The "intelligence" services get away with it.

      More or less.

      The conceit is plod demanding that they could do so too. The lunatics are smashing up their asylum.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Am I missing something but can't you unlock a phone if you have access to the email account of said phone with a warrant?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I think you can wipe it (which would not be their intent), but I don't think you can unlock it.

      In the case where a user has Apple Cloud Backup (whatever they call it), why wouldn't the investigators simply buy a like device and have the carrier (ATT, Verizon, etc) turn off the old one and enable the new one?

  19. John G Imrie Silver badge

    Spoilation of evedence

    Forensic examiners are able to bypass passcodes on some [Android] devices using a variety of forensic techniques. For some other types of Android devices, Google can reset the passcodes when served with a search warrant and an order instructing them to assist law enforcement to extract data from the device. This process can be done by Google remotely and allows forensic examiners to view the contents of a device.

    If Google can reset the device remotely, why can't anyone else? And if anyone else can, how can the Prosecution claim that anything on the phone was placed by the defendant.

    1. theOtherJT

      Re: Spoilation of evedence

      Presumably in theory they can - if they could get hold of whatever keys google used to sign the device certificates with (I'm assuming there's key based security at work rather than some variation on "all android devices have a root password of "G00g13")

      That such a leak could in theory occur and land them with a really nasty legal bill is probably why Google are moving toward a full disk encryption process for newer android versions.

  20. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

    The article talks about data "at rest" as opposed to dats "in transit". Data in transit is protected by session keys, generated by Diffie-Hellman or otherwise and largely secure.

    Data "at rest" will be protected by fingerprint or pass phrase. In the UK, if you don't give up thst key on official request you will go to jail. People have indeed been jailed for that.

    Since the objective is to send people to jail, why make all this fuss about crypto backdoors?

    1. DocJames

      Erm

      generated by Diffie-Hellman... and largely secure.

      I thought that recent evidence was that the NSA could happily read DH encrypted data. Is this wrong?

  21. Velv Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Collateral Dammage

    It is not a choice of should we/shouldn't we over encryption, it's a choice of how much collateral damage we are prepared to accept.

    1,000 of innocent people die annually due to the internal combustion engine, and while working to reduce the numbers, we accept this collateral damage as a consequence of the greater good.

    Guns are designed to launch an object very fast at a target, and if that target is a living being, there's a good chance it won't be living much longer. Most countries have therefore placed severe controls on guns as the likelihood of collateral damage is high. None have banned them completely as they do still serve a valid purpose in the greater good.

    Encryption has its place in the greater good, we just need to determine the balance point - the acceptable level of collateral damage for the benefit gained. And I can guarantee we won't all agree on the same level.

    1. John Sanders
      Big Brother

      Re: Collateral Dammage

      """1,000 of innocent people die annually due to the internal combustion engine, and while working to reduce the numbers, we accept this collateral damage as a consequence of the greater good."""

      That argument does not fly, a car is made to transport people and goods, the immense majority of deaths caused by vehicles are mere accidents.

      A gun sole purpose is to shoot at things, the immense majority of gun kills is in purpose.

      """Encryption has its place in the greater good, we just need to determine the balance point - the acceptable level of collateral damage for the benefit gained."""

      Encryption is not a weapon but a tool, like a car, and encryption does not kill, people with guns, bombs and the intention to kill do.

      The fact that they used a form of encryption to cover their tracks / hide their communications is irrelevant.

      As someone pointed above, I'm more worried that in the last dozen or so Muslim Jihadi attacks the perpetrators (or the majority of them) were well known to the authorities, not only on this country but abroad too.

      Two cases, there are lots and lots more, Google is your friend:

      http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/lee-rigby-report-lets-kill-a-soldier-michael-adebowale-woolwich-murder-mi5-errors-9881657.html

      http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/sydney-siege-man-haron-monis-was-not-considered-a-highpriority-threat-finds-report-20150221-13lcpt.html

      So yeah banning encryption will somehow fix incompetent "Politically Correct" politicians.

  22. biolo

    To me this all comes down to the "magical thinking" issue. No one has yet come up with a proposal that provides the necessary security without a whole host of fundamental problems. Western governments employ thousands of encryption experts, security experts and mathematicians in the various intelligence services and academia, many of them amongst the best in the world. If this were really a solvable problem then why not task the experts already under government payroll to come up with a workable proposition. Take that to the tech industry. If it really works, then it becomes difficult for the tech industry to say no to. The reason they don't do this of course is that those who might want to go down this route know it's not possible, and don't want to be on the hook for wasted funds on the effort. We're thus left with the tech-illiterate, or liars, spouting nonsensical whines for political ends .

    1. Vic

      security experts and mathematicians in the various intelligence services and academia, many of them amongst the best in the world

      That's very unlikely.

      I just went to the GCHQ careers site. THe first position I clicked on was for an Intelligence Analyst - quite an important role[1]. they're offering a bit ove £25K.

      Applied Research offers less than £28K.

      At these rates, they might get a few gung-ho patriots, but the real talent will be earning ten times as much. It is likely that the "best in the world" is nowhere near Cheltenham,

      Vic.

      [1] The job description states "Analysts are at the heart of GCHQ’s mission - turning data into the critical intelligence that helps to protect the UK. Our analysts work with complex data, understanding and interpreting it to find the crucial intelligence within it."

  23. Graham Cobb

    The answer is proper resourcing of the police

    The reason the politicians want this is because they are busy trying to save money by cutting numbers of police. Their wet dream is reducing police "investigation" to remote, back-office research (and then maybe outsource it to the lowest bidder?). So, they want everything available electronically -- and what better source than the phone everyone carries with them?

    If terrorism is becoming more of a real threat (it was great while it was just a justification for repressive actions -- such as raising the "threat level" just before important parliamentary votes!) then it is going to be really hard to keep cutting police jobs. That is what is motivating these outbursts.

    What we need, is proper funding of the police, combined with good management that will prioritise putting actual officers on the street for important investigations (including a reasonable number of small investigations such as burglary). Get rid of the culture of cutting police numbers, fund the police appropriately, and appoint good managers as senior policemen.

  24. Gordon861

    Hard Copy of Key

    I would be happy to have a physical copy of my crypto key that is held by a solicitor in a sealed box that could only be opened with the authority of a court order. At least then you should know when it has been compromised rather than the Authorities being able to go on fishing trips electronically.

    1. Woodnag

      Re: Hard Copy of Key

      Except in the USofA the solicitor gets served with an NSL with gag order to hand it over, and you are none the wiser.

  25. John Sanders
    Holmes

    Simple question, simple answer

    """As to where we all end up: that will depend on whose arguments you found the most persuasive: the American prosecutor or the Lebanese coder?"""

    Neither. Both arguments are black and white and lead to abuse.

    How to fix it? No clue, I do not think it has a clear solution.

    As per the physical encryption on phones, it can be dealt with certificates, have a CA and issue a unique cert per phone, only the cert in the phone and the CA can decode the data. The solution already exists and it is a good compromise as it would require the phone to be physically handled over to the manufacturer.

    That CA better be made secure though.

  26. WibbleMe

    Imagine that you were told that a hidden wi-if camera was found in a pre-school loo where your child regularly attends and the has is set to email images on moment like many do to an email address on a server located out side of your country. The authorities have the internet data from the internet company but it is encrypted, only with a key can they find out who has been receiving the images

  27. Alistair Silver badge
    Windows

    @wibbleme

    Don't need the encryption - you know what is in the data stream, you need the account holder on the other end, data that the company either hosting the email server, or hosting the IP has. Dead argument.

    1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

      Re: @wibbleme

      Exactly so - I can think of no scenario of this type where having the ability to decrypt would be of any help. Not to mention that although I realise that we are all supposed to become hysterical and throw logic out the window whenever a crime is mentioned that could be related to paedophilia, I honestly do not regard taking photographs of pre-schoolers in the loo as being a particularly heinous crime, so long as the authorities allow said pre-schoolers to remain ignorant of the event instead of labelling them "abuse survivors" and forcing them to take "counselling" until they exhibit the correct symptoms of trauma.

  28. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    The coder is right

    First, as stated in the article, the mathematics are unavoidable. A flawed cryptosystem is flawed, and the flaw WILL be found and exploited.

    Second, Vance's list of examples of phone data being used to solve crimes -- ZERO instances there require fiddling with encryption in any way whatsoever. They list examples where people have photos on the phone, or used text messaging to each other. Text messages are already stored by the phone companies for (hopefully with an authorized warrant, but let's face it probably without one) it is available to law enforcement or whoever. Pictures and messages sitting on the phone are sitting on the phone. If the phone is on and running, then the full-disk-encryption decryption key is already in memory (just as full-disk-encryption won't help secure a PC that is already up and running.) I think you'll find people like Vance are INTENTIONALLY muddying this issue to try to gain far more access than they really need to do their job.

  29. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    Bad actors

    I would like to point out, the reason the feds (etc.) have so much trouble persuading people to give up their privacy, is because of how clearly the feds (etc.) have abused their powers. Seriously, if the feds (etc.) had at least tried to follow federal law and the Constitution (and British feds follow UK equivalent), for example by getting a warrant before they dove through data, and quit assuming people are stupid and can be "persuaded" with nonsensical spurious arguments, they may have had better luck. In other words, if they had earned the public's trust, instead of being bad actors violating it at every possible turn. Of course this doesn't change strong crypto with a backdoor in it being nonsense, but they wouldn't have such widespread encryption as now if the feds hadn't thoroughly abused their position.

  30. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    I protect myself against Government Spooks turning on the camera and mic in my iPad by having it sit in a pocket of my backpack and play "Hey Mickey" on infinite loop when I'm not using it.

    They can spy on me all they want, but they are going to be driven earworm-crazy on any given day.

    You try going home after a hard day at [REDACTED] and giving the SO a good seeing-to after a few hours of that playing into your headphones.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Gimp

      Re: Bah!

      You try going home after a hard day at [REDACTED] and giving the SO a good seeing-to after a few hours of that playing into your headphones.

      Remarkably specific. Speaking from experience?

      ;)

  31. martinusher Silver badge

    Pointless Argument

    Encryption is an algorithm, not an application. You can weaken the encryption used in a particular application but that won't weaken encryption in general. Encryption algorithms are public -- they're useless if they rely on secrecy -- so there's nothing stopping the bad guys from rolling their own applications.

    Its a complex subject but unfortunately most of the politicians and pundits going on about it are still at the "secret writing and decoder ring" level of sophistication.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Pointless Argument

      wwwwhhhhhhhhhhhhooooooooooosssssssshhhhh...............

      The object is not to "protect" the honest law abiding cattle: The object to to increase surveillance OF THOSE honest law abiding cattle. "Because terrorists" and "because paedophiles" are mere excuses. OF COURSE actual terrorists and paedophiles (and all sophisticated criminals) know they need quality cryptography and use it and will continue to use it.

      The FACT that these same disingenuous bureaucrats pop up EVERY time something bad happens somewhere in the world, to squeal for more pork, is DISGUSTING.

      The FACT that none of these bad things is averted despite the FACT that the TLAs ALREADY know of the culprits and ALREADY infest practically everything pours contemptuous lashings of hypocrisy upon that DISGUSTING.

      They are ALREADY drowning in their ocean of superfluous "intelligence"

      "Scum" doesn't come close to doing these people justice. What proportion of YOUR rights and YOUR GDP do you want them to take?

      Your Lord Protectors have no interest in protecting you.

  32. abufrejoval

    Smartphone is a brain extension not a home: Would you tolerate a brain search warrant?

    New things, new rules: Once you do such things as planting seeds you have to rethink property.

    So a smartphone isn't exactly a home or exactly your brain, but I'd argue it's a lot more like a brain extension, a digital prosthestic limb or like your spouse and neither you yourself nor your spouse typically have to testify against you.

    So for starters I believe seizing your smartphone is already getting awfully close to mental (and physical) abuse (especially once you start implanting the "smart" part of the phone).

    You can be imprisoned (for good reasons) and so can be your smartphone along with you. In such a case your communication with the outside world may be cut completely or monitored (unless it's with your attorney) and so can that communication which passes through your smartphone to the outside under such circumstances. But you're still allowed to think, talk to yourself and the digital part of your brain.

    In other words, where you are, who you talk to, across which physical or logical limits your communication crosses, determines the level of privacy you can enjoy.

    But we better establish that your brain will always remain private, before they manage to actually scan that constantly for your thoughts.

    New jurisdiction must be developed along these lines if you want to avoid the kind of wars that raged between hunter gatherers and planters.

  33. rav

    Government TRUSTED with a BACKDOOR!!! RTFLOL

    Crypto with a BACKDOOR is as secure as a VIRGIN wearing a chastity belt wearing the key around her neck.

    Trusting Government with your security is useless.

  34. Fascist Nation

    How to enforce?

    How do you enforce this...read punish the uncooperative? For any app that may encrypt communications of one sort or another:

    Do you make it illegal to use an app without a backdoor? [punish the end user]

    Do you make it illegal for an ISP to allow downloading an app without a backdoor? [punish the end user's ISP]

    Do you make it illegal to create and app without a backdoor? [punish the programmer]

    Do you make it illegal to post open source code to an app without a backdoor that anyone could download and compile and use? [punish the programmer and / or the end user; pesky free speech claim too]

  35. Peeeeter

    This is pure theory

    Some criminals are smart enough to do the encryption themselves and they will never create a hole. Legislation won't stop them. They don't keep laws. That's what makes them criminals.

    Others will hire experts to seamlessly protect their phones. So the police will always depend on the stupidity of people leaving their stuff unprotected.

    As time goes by, awareness will grow. This is a war that can't be won.

  36. Adam Inistrator

    smartphone ARE bugs

    Everybody is willingly carrying around a personalised bug now. Public sector type's wet dream. Now they want to use the bugs legally of course. It was courageous to demand free speech in the past since it could be used for evil purposes that we . Likewise I perhaps we have to be courageous enough to grant evil paedo-terrorists privacy although it seems nuts. I despite your ideas but will defend your right to speak them ... could become I despise your ideas and actions but I will defend your privacy to the death.

  37. Ben Bonsall

    If encryption can be broken, or keys retrieved from an intermediary, it would be trivial to then impersonate the owner of a key, to gather information about contacts, or to plant false evidence...

    Much more scary than being able to see your cat pictures.

  38. cortland

    It seems that next

    It will be unlawful to delete data from cellphones.

    "Just in case."

  39. Hempy

    Who's Right on Crypto?

    Code has always been a part of human societies. Let government do its job of cracking the code.

  40. Brent Beach
    FAIL

    The DA says that he should have the same effective access to your phone as your home.

    In not one of the cases cited would the police have found the particular evidence in the home of the perp that they found on the phone. The DA is not asking for the same power, he is asking for additional power.

    In the examples, information from phones was used. That does not mean that no other clues would have turned up in a thorough investigation. Most criminals were caught before cell phones. Most will continue to be caught.

    Once it becomes clear that having a cell phone increases your chances of getting caught, criminals will stop using those devices and we will be back at conventional investigations. The use of fingerprints caught a few people when the mechanism was first discovered. The high tech countermeasure - gloves - eliminated that method pretty quickly. The terrorists in Paris may well have not used cell phones.

    The high tech countermeasure for all their snooping prowess - don't use a phone - will become common after a few high profile convictions and all the money and manpower and loss of privacy will have been invested for nothing.

    Will it then be illegal to not have a cell phone? To wear gloves?

    And law enforcement, busy looking at terabytes of meta data won't notice the guy with the Uzi walking down the street because they don't have any time to look.

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