So, If Someone Could Just Kill A Child And Let The FBI And DOJ Get Their Anti-Phone Encryption Legislation Going, That Would Be Great
from the 'terrorism'-no-longer-'motivational'-enough dept
The discussion over cellphone encryption continues, with much of the “discussion” being FBI director James Comey’s insistence that Apple and Google simply can’t do the very thing they’re doing… and offering zero legal reasons why they can’t. There have been a lot of horribles paraded around during the past few weeks, mainly of the terrorist or pedophile variety. None of it has been very persuasive to anyone not wearing a badge. The converts continue to love the preaching while those on the outside look on in bemusement.
It’s not just Apple and Google at this point. Whatsapp, the messaging app Facebook recently purchased, will be providing end-to-end encryption. Twitter is fighting National Security Letter gag orders in court.
The Wall Street Journal’s recent article provides a closer look at the reactions of the upper echelon of law enforcement (DOJ and FBI) but only finds more of the same.
The No. 2 official at the Justice Department delivered a blunt message last month to Apple Inc. executives: New encryption technology that renders locked iPhones impervious to law enforcement would lead to tragedy. A child would die, he said, because police wouldn’t be able to scour a suspect’s phone, according to people who attended the meeting.
“A child would die.” That’s the argument. That’s almost the only argument.
I’d hate to have people look at me and say, ‘Well how come you can’t save this kid,’ ‘how come you can’t do this thing.'” (Sept. 25)
Smartphone communication is “going to be the preferred method of the pedophile and the criminal.’ [Washington DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier] (Sept. 30)
Eric Holder: ‘When a child is in danger, law enforcement needs to be able to take every legally available step to quickly find and protect the child…’ (Oct 1st)
As a result, child predators, terrorists, and other criminals could go free, he [James Comey] warned. (Oct. 30)
Unsurprisingly, when the subject was first broached in this fashion, Apple reacted as any company would when faced with the insinuation that its latest feature would kill children.
The meeting last month ended in a standoff. Apple executives thought the dead-child scenario was inflammatory. They told the government officials law enforcement could obtain the same kind of information elsewhere, including from operators of telecommunications networks and from backup computers and other phones, according to the people who attended.
There are other options, but the FBI and DOJ only want the easiest route. To get it, the same argument is presented again and again. The FBI, along with other law enforcement officials, have accused Apple and Google of marketing to criminals. The companies have reasonably responded by presenting the alternatives the FBI and others are willfully ignoring. Files stored on phones are often stored elsewhere. Talk to service providers. Demand the information from the suspects themselves.
James Comey says he wants to have a “discussion,” but plugs his ears and shouts about pedophiles and dead children when options other than a law enforcement-only “back door/front door” are brought up. Apple and Google have told the FBI to change the law if it doesn’t like the new reality. James Comey and the DOJ’s second-in-command, James Cole, know this is the route they have to take if they want to force Apple and Google to drop encryption. They also know the current backlash against government surveillance makes this pursuit anything but a foregone conclusion.
And, so, Comey and Cole exhume the corpses of child victims and give them lead roles in their pathetic, ghoulish puppet show — something they perform for any halfway-sympathetic audience. Comey and others in law enforcement know what it will take to pass legislation or amendments in their favor.
[Deputy Attorney General James] Cole predicted that [law change] would happen, after the death of a child or similar event.
So, it would appear that both sides of the argument are waiting for a watershed event to prove their respective points. Apple’s Tim Cook believes “something major” will happen that will prove to customers that his company’s decision to provide encryption by default was the right one. The DOJ and FBI, on the other hand, are apparently waiting for something much more tragic: the severe abuse and/or death of a child at the hand of criminal in possession of an encrypted phone.
One side is waiting for a horrible event their customers are shielded from. The other side is waiting for a horrible event to convert into legislative currency. If the side looking to exploit a tragedy strikes first, the second watershed event — the one Tim Cook posits — will have no positive outcome. The FBI isn’t just willing to use dead children to achieve its aims. It’s also willing to sacrifice the public’s privacy and security at the same time.