FBI Holds Secret Meeting To Scare Congress Into Backdooring Phone Encryption

from the just-in-time-for--halloween dept

In September, both Apple and Google announced plans to encrypt information on iOS and Android devices by default. Almost immediately, there was a collective freakout by law enforcement types. But, try as they might, these law enforcement folks couldn’t paint any realistic scenario of where this would be a serious problem. Sure, they conjured up scenarios, but upon inspection they pretty much all fell apart. Instead, what was clear was that encryption could protect users from people copying information off of phones without permission, and, in fact, the FBI itself recommends you encrypt the data on your phone.

But it didn’t stop FBI director James Comey from ignoring the advice of his own agency and pushing for a new law that would create back doors (he called them front doors, but when asked to explain the difference, he admitted that he wasn’t “smart enough” to understand the distinction) in such encryption.

So, now, of course, the FBI/DOJ gets to go up to Congress and tell them scary stories about just how necessary breaking encryption would be. And it’s being done in total secrecy, because if it was done in public, experts might debunk the claims, like they’ve done with basically all of the scenarios provided in public to date.

FBI and Justice Department officials met with House staffers this week for a classified briefing on how encryption is hurting police investigations, according to staffers familiar with the meeting.

The briefing included Democratic and Republican aides for the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, the staffers said. The meeting was held in a classified room, and aides are forbidden from revealing what was discussed.

It’s almost guaranteed that someone will introduce some legislation, written primarily by the FBI, pushing for this (such a bill is almost certainly already sitting in some DOJ bureaucrat’s desk drawer, so they just need to dot some i’s, cross some t’s and come up with a silly acronym name for the bill). So far, many in Congress have been outspoken against such a law, but never underestimate the ability of the FBI to mislead Congress with some FUD, leading to all sorts of scare stories about how we need this or we’re all going to die.

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Comments on “FBI Holds Secret Meeting To Scare Congress Into Backdooring Phone Encryption”

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Gullible White Cattle (user link) says:

Re: hostile elite

Exactly. Jewish/crypto-jewish terror plots under the guise of “protecting America.” this is not left vs right, GOP vs Dems, Socialism vs liberty. This is war on White people.

Why do hostile elite defend Israel as a Jewish ethnostate with Jewish only immigration, but ravage White majority Europe/North America into a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural Gulag with non-White colonization?

The world is 91% non-White, only 9% White. But non-White colonizers are aggressively advancing their agenda to annihilate gullible Whites, just as Chinese annihilate Tibet.

How long will gullible Whites cuckold for murderous anti-White elite, who suppress our fertility, confiscate our guns, infiltrate/subvert our banks/FBI/CIA, indoctrinate White kids in academia/mass media, plunder White jobs/wages, & butcher White soldiers in bankrupting wars?

“Native” Americans invaded from East Asia. Yellow & Brown races committed 10-times more genocide, slavery, imperialism than Whites. Since Moses, Whites have been victims of Jewish/Crypto-Jewish, Muslim, N.African imperialism, slavery, genocide.

Gullible Whites should reject subversive ideologies- libertarianism, feminism, liberalism- & hostile slanders of racism. Peace to all humanity, but White people must organize to advance their interests, their fertility, their homelands. Spread this message. Reading list: goo.gl/iB777 , goo.gl/htyeq , amazon.com/dp/0759672229 , amazon.com/dp/1410792617

Anonymous Coward says:

given how up to now, Congress has just done whatever the security services have told it, with no care at all for the people the members are supposed to represent, surely it’s a foregone conclusion, isn’t it? add in whatever special circumstances that can be applied to members in return for shitting all over the people, and it must then be a
‘SLAM-DUNK’, mustn’t it?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You say “break into a phone” as if that’s supposed to make it any easier. I don’t think you understand the integrity of a 128 Bit Encryption algorithm. No matter how powerful you are. You can’t break into it without a “backdoor” which isn’t known to exist. Encryption is the real deal. Whether it’s protecting Bank data or protecting the data on John Doe’s phone.

Anonymous Coward says:

If the FBI have a front door, or back door into encryption, it will only be of use if all offices know how to use it, which means the bad guys will know about it as well, as there will be at least one bad apple amongst the FBI agent that know the details. If the police are also told how to use it, the encryption will be useless within hours.
The closed systems used by Apple and Android make it difficult for users to add encryption of their choice, and the only defense against such front/back doors is not to use the officially provided means of encryption

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Anyone pushing for job security, job ease, and budget increases at the expense of the security and privacy and Constitutional rights of the American people already is a bad guy. They may not be actively plotting to kill you like the (mostly ethereal) terrorist threats, but they’re certainly wolves offering to protect the sheep from the tigers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Wolves offering to protect the sheep from the tigers” is a great phrase. Also works perfectly to describe the religious fundamentalists who feel the need to turn this country into a theocracy* in order to fend off al-qaida/Isis/eeeebil socialists.

*they already worship money, but pushing religion into that mix is a recipe for disaster

Geno0wl (profile) says:

Imagine CSI as the FBI paints it

CSI shows are what people like you to think the FBI/crime analysts really do. Use real world clues to track down criminals.
Smart phones are less than a decade old!
Could you imagine what a CSI show would look like if they relied only on evidence like the FBI claims they “need” from these smart phones?
“Well his phone is now encrypted, can’t go sweep for finger prints…check phone logs…run DNA tests…interview witnesses…review Surveillance footage…ALL OF IT IS GONE!”

Anonymous Coward says:

The distinction is simple

You don’t have to be “smart enough” to understand it.

A “front door” is what the user normally uses. On a phone, it would be the lock screen password.

A “back door” is an alternative access point, normally (but not always) hidden from the user. On a phone, it would be most ways of bypassing the lock screen, for instance going through the bootloader, opening the phone and reading directly from the embedded flash memory, or using a “forgot my lock screen password” function on a cloud-enabled phone. Yes, this last one is an instance where the user himself can be using a backdoor to gain access.

So the distinction is: “front door” = normal way of access for the user; “back door” = everything else that also gives access.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: The distinction is simple

“You don’t have to be “smart enough” to understand it.”

I think you mean that you don’t have to be very smart to understand it. It’s certainly possibly to be dumb enough that you can’t understand it even though it’s trivially easy to understand. I love Comey’s comment about not being smart enough, because he said outright that he’s a complete idiot.

Also, if you don’t understand a concept, you should at least be smart enough to avoid publicly making arguments about that concept. Comey’s not even smart enough to know that much.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re: The distinction is simple

I’m sorry, but I have to disagree.

It is actually extremely complex once you start redefining words like they have done.

You see, to the FBI, a “Back Door” is just a “Front Door” on the other side of the house. However, when you get to that side of the house, it is now the “Front Door” and the door that used to be the “Front Door” is now the “Back Door”. They want to create a “Back Door”, but in order to enter that door, you have to be on the side of the house that puts you “In Front” of it, so it becomes the “Front Door”. To illustrate the difference, you actually need to be in a quantum state in which you are in front of the house, but are simultaneously able to enter through the door on the opposite side of the house.

I can see why he may become confused trying to do this.

David says:

One word: child pornography

Ok, two words.

How is the FBI supposed to protect children from child pornography if they don’t have the ability to search the phone of every child and prosecute it as a sex offender once racy photos can be secured and passed around the departments for fun and to prosecutors for business?

Where would the children be without the police being able to provide this sort of protection for them? Most likely in school rather than in courthouse and jail. How will that teach them what it means to be an American?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: One word: child pornography

Those juvenile delinquents can learn to be productive members of society from within the profitable walls of a private juvenile detention center. They’ll learn all the aspects of being a true citizen like being manipulated for the profit of corporate sociopaths, being abused for the demented pleasure of sick people who are absurdly trusted with authority and discretion, and they’ll learn how to have all their personal belongings treated like they’re only theirs until someone with authority decides to take them away.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: One word: child pornography

An encrypted phone isn’t going to make or break the case. IF they are investigating someone for child pornography, they already have something on the person. The phone would serve as peripheral or supporting evidence, possibly. At that point, they should go to a judge, get a warrant authorizing search of the phone and if the suspect refuses to decrypt – after due process has been followed – then that person may be held in contempt of a judges order.

ACTUAL POLICE WORK that follows ACTUAL CIVIL LIBERTIES beats cheap shortcuts that could violate all of our liberties every single time. The NSA already has proven that we cannot trust the shepherds to respect the sheep.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: One word: child pornography

You are missing the modern police approach, pick them up for some minor crime, like jaywalking, and then search and or clone their phone. With an unencrypted phone they can the look for any evidence of a more serious crime. Just how are they going to do this when the phones are encrypted, they will not be able to see the sexting pictures exchanged by teenagers.
I think this is the main objection to encrypted phone, it prevents searches whenever they can get hold of the phone, but do not have grounds for getting a warrant.

jg says:

Re: The one question Congress should ask

I’m 110% against all this bullshit that’s happening right now, but in answer to your Q: yeah, probably. I’d be so bold to say that axiomatically, crime moves faster than the bureaucracy invented to stop it. Does this mean that the “luddites” in congress should be able to feign technological ignorance in order justify blatant, and most certainly unconstitutional invasions of privacy on US, and global citizens? Absolutely not. I’m gonna go torch a Starbucks at the mere thought of this.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: The one question Congress should ask

“yeah, probably”

This seems incorrect on the face of it. Do you have any supporting evidence?

“I’d be so bold to say that axiomatically, crime moves faster than the bureaucracy invented to stop it.”

Although, given that the vast majority of criminals are idiots (that’s how they’ve always been caught — by making stupid mistakes), I think this effect is dramatically overstated in general. In any case, this is irrelevant to the case of cellphone encryption for two main reasons. First, criminal engage in communications, and communications can still be monitored (even if there isn’t blanket surveillance. Second, police can still get access to the contents of the phone. They just need a judge to order the suspect to unlock it. If the suspect fails to do so, he is imprisoned for contempt of court until he complies.

Anonymous Coward says:

[Related] Search Warrant Execution and Notice

On a closely related note, there’s a conversation right now over at Volokh regarding the “astonishing increase” in the numbers of so-called “sneak and peek” or delayed-notice warrant executions.

The well-known Professor Kerr argues that the EFF has “misunderstood and misreported” the government numbers. He conjectures (without evidence) that the indisputable rise in the numbers results from increased reporting of email, GPS and other electronic intrusions.

Whether we accept Professor Kerr’s contention or not, the FBI’s demand for encryption backdoors is very much a demand for “sneak and peek” authority.

You don’t think they’re planning on giving notice to people, do you? “Oh, we’ve broken your software and we’re going to read your email”. Yeah, right.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: [Related] Search Warrant Execution and Notice

Kerr has been wrong on this one from the beginning, which is sad considering his track record.

He doesn’t think the 5th can protect you from incriminating yourself with whats on your phone because its a “foregone conclusion”; based on a case where the police KNEW what was in a phone because the defendant had SHOWN THEM prior to locking his phone down. If the police/government don’t know whats on your phone, its not a “foregone conclusion” and its then a fishing expedition.

The 4th should protect you as well, but we all know how much respect the government has for that. This is like general warrants all over again.

Anonymous Coward says:

Fricosu keys

We need Fricosu keys. What’s a Fricosu key? This is a key set up when creating the encrypted container, which when entered under duress in Colorado, would cause the system to silently and permanently forget the real decryption key. Of course, this wouldn’t work if the disk has already been imaged….d*mn.

Or, if you are crossing the border and CBP asks to see what’s on your laptop, enter your Fricosu key, then say, hmm, that’s strange, it’s not decrypting. Here, you keep the laptop.

Anonymous Coward says:

I predict as soon as the November mid-term elections are over, we’ll start seeing legislation introduced demanding backdoor access for encrypted devices.

American reminds me more and more of China with each passing day. Now instead of Rep. Mike Rogers fear-mongering about Chinese made electronics with backdoors. The entire world will be fear-mongering about American made electronics with backdoors.

No need to fear through. The US Gov has pinky swore they don’t use backdoors for corporate espionage, like the Chinese Government does. Don’t you feel better already?

Anonymous Coward says:

But it didn’t stop FBI director James Comey from ignoring the advice of his own agency and pushing for a new law that would create back doors (he called them front doors, but when asked to explain the difference, he admitted that he wasn’t “smart enough” to understand the distinction) in such encryption.

“I’m too stupid to understand this stuff, but we definitely need it.” Wow.

Even if he manages to bribe/blackmail/whatever a law like that into effect, it would only apply to stock firmware, which any self-respecting terrorist would ditch ASAP, because why would they trust US companies?
So, given the history of absurd lawmaking, the next step would be to try to make custom/aftermarket firmware illegal. Which would unleash SOPA levels of nerdrage, due to the threat to general-purpose computing. (What next, making it illegal to replace Windows with Linux on a computer?)

Nothing useful could possibly be achieved by this. Why is Comey doing this? He says he doesn’t have the slightest understanding of the technology involved; why would he push for this specific regulation, then? If he doesn’t know anything about it, how would he know what to ask for?
It sounds like he’s taking orders from someone. I wonder who?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Nothing useful could possibly be achieved by this. Why is Comey doing this?

The paranoiac in me would say because it’s not really about paedos and terrorists. It’s about the security state being able to acquire dirt on and leverage as many people as possible.

But I think it is mainly about the precedent. Apple and Google are sending a message that the government are a threat that should be defied. Letting them get away with it would help to establish a new norm that other tech companies will copy. It would help to legitimize and reinforce the growing popular resistance to the US police state.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Even if he manages to bribe/blackmail/whatever a law like that into effect, it would only apply to stock firmware, which any self-respecting terrorist would ditch ASAP, because why would they trust US companies?”

Excellent point. Hell, I’m not a terrorist and I’m a US citizen, and the first thing I do with any smartphone is replace the stock OS — because I don’t trust them either.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

So Let Us Consider the Possibility that the FBI are the Terrorists.

One must consider that the Boston Marathon bombing has all the hallmarks of one of the many FBI provocateur operations. It may well be the case that the Tsarnaev brothers displayed initiative by manufacturing their own bombs instead of waiting to be issued with FBI fake bombs, and the operation thus spun out of the FBI’s control. That would explain why the FBI killed that man in Florida, Ibragim Todashev, after spending so long talking to him, and supposedly getting such exciting testimony. Read Charles Nicholl, _The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe_ (1992), about a parallel case in the year 1593. Marlowe, the playwright, was also a secret agent, spying on people suspected of being catholics in protestant England, and he apparently got in over his depth. He was removed because it was thought that he might squeal. Again, there are striking similarities.

You may say that there is no evidence. I retort that there is no conclusive evidence of the Gestapo’s involvement in the Reichstags Fire. Secret policemen have a way of destroying evidence which might tend to incriminate them. The government is not entitled to the presumption of innocence, if anything, the reverse.


Binko Barnes (profile) says:

In the pre-digital past the government could always get at your papers or your info or your possessions in one way or the other if they wanted to bad enough. Digital encryption changes this and now government is freaking out.

When it comes to encryption, I think people’s minds have been skewed by watching hundreds of TV shows and movies where somebody says “just give me a few minutes to crack the encryption” or “it’s encrypted so I’ll need a little time” or “it’s encrypted but that shouldn’t be a problem”.

But, as somebody pointed out up-stream, encryption is real. Use a moderately complex key and encryption is essentially uncrackable without either the key or a built-in backdoor.

That’s why law enforcement is so intent of getting backdoors into everything. If they don’t have them it means, for the first time ever, they literally can’t get access to stuff they want to see.

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