Congressional Rep. John Carter Discovers Encryption; Worries It May One Day Be Used On Computers To Protect Your Data

from the i-don't-know-anything-about-this-stuff dept

Here’s a suggestion: if you’re a Congressional Representative whose job it is to regulate all sorts of important things, and you state in a hearing “I don’t know anything about this stuff” before spouting off on your crazy opinions about how something must be done… maybe, just maybe educate yourself before confirming to the world that you’re ignorant of the very thing you’re regulating. We famously saw this during the SOPA debate, where Representatives seemed proud of their own ignorance. As we noted at the time, it’s simply not okay for Congress to be proud of their own ignorance of technology, especially when they’re in charge of regulating it. But things have not changed all that much apparently.

We already wrote about FBI Director James Comey’s bizarre Congressional hearing earlier this week, in which he warned those in attendance about the horrible world that faced us when the FBI couldn’t spy on absolutely everything. But the folks holding the hearing were suckers for this, and none more so than Rep. John Carter. The ACLU’s Chris Soghoian alerts us to the following clip of Carter at that hearing, which he says “is going to be the new ‘The Internet is a Series of Tubes'” video. I would embed the video, but for reasons that are beyond me, C-SPAN doesn’t use HTTPS so an embed wouldn’t work here (randomly: Soghoian should offer CSPAN a bottle of whiskey to fix that…).

Here’s the basic transcript though:

Rep. John Carter: I’m chairman of Homeland Security Appropriations. I serve on Defense and Defense subcommittees. We have all the national defense issues with cyber. And now, sir, on this wonderful committee. So cyber is just pounding me from every direction. And every time I hear something, or something just pops in my head — because I don’t know anything about this stuff. If they can do that to a cell phone why can’t they do that to every computer in the country, and nobody can get into it? If that’s the case, then that’s the solution to the invaders from around the world who are trying to get in here. [Smug grin]

FBI Director Comey: [Chuckle and gives smug, knowing grin]

Carter: Then if that gets to be the wall, the stone wall, and even the law can’t penetrate it, then aren’t we creating an instrument [that] is the perfect tool for lawlessness. This is a very interesting conundrum that’s developing in the law. If they, at their own will at Microsoft can put something in a computer — or at Apple — can put something in that computer [points on a smartphone], which it is, to where nobody but that owner can open it, then why can’t they put it in the big giant super computers, that nobody but that owner can open it. And everything gets locked away secretly. And that sounds like a solution to this great cyber attack problem, but in turn it allows those who would do us harm [chuckles] to have a tool to do a great deal of harm where law enforcement can’t reach them. This is a problem that’s gotta be solved.

Holy crap! Rep. John Carter just learned about encryption! And he thinks it’s only on mobile phones but (ooooh, scary) might one day be used on “big super computers” to keep stuff safe. But he doesn’t realize that it’s been widely used for many, many, many years to keep his very own data safe and many of ours as well.

The conversation continues with Carter again demonstrating confusion over some rather basic concepts:

Carter: If you’re following the Bill of Rights, you have every right to be able to go before a judge, present your probable cause, and if he sees it, that’s a right, get a warrant and get into that machine. And I don’t think there’s a right of privacy issue in the world that prevents you following the law.

Uh, right. There isn’t a right of privacy issue that prevents the FBI from going and getting a warrant, but the larger argument is whether or not individuals can protect other things privately — and they’ve always been able to do so. If you and I have a conversation just between the two of us, there is no way for the government to then find out what that conversation was about. Because there’s no way to “decrypt” a verbal conversation that is now stored entirely in our minds. That’s been true forever. Yet we don’t see Rep. Carter or Director Comey demanding recording devices to record every conversation. But, to Carter, the fact that you might be able to do the same thing with your email, is a “monster.”

Carter: So if that’s what they’ve created, they’ve created a monster, that will harm law enforcement, national security and everything else in this country. And this really needs to be addressed. And I wasn’t even going to talk about that, but that upsets the heck out of me. ‘Cause, you know, I don’t think that’s right.

Yeah, Rep. Carter, you’re kind of decades too late. And you’re totally wrong, too. It didn’t create a monster. It didn’t harm “everything else in this country.” It protected millions of law abiding people — including Carter by keeping their data safe. That’s the whole point of encryption. Saying that “it needs to be addressed” is ridiculous. However, it does make it clear that Rep. Carter was being honest at the beginning when he admitted “didn’t know anything about this stuff.” Perhaps he should have stopped there.

At the end there’s this bizarre dialogue about how law enforcement and judges handle information in a locked safe, but it seems like Carter still doesn’t understand the question, finally saying that it’s “bad policy” to have a safe that can’t be opened by the manufacturer and “a crisis.” So is Rep. Carter arguing that all safe’s need to have backdoors that the manufacturers can open?

Doesn’t Rep. Carter have staffers who can point out to him that computer encryption has been around for decades, and it’s what keeps all sorts of stuff safe, including his banking details, his credit card purchases, the confidential memos he receives in Congress and much, much more? And yet, he’s suddenly discovered encryption and he’s decided it’s bad because it might, someday, end up on computers?

And he’s in charge of these issues? Yikes!

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Comments on “Congressional Rep. John Carter Discovers Encryption; Worries It May One Day Be Used On Computers To Protect Your Data”

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89 Comments
sigalrm (profile) says:

Re: Re: Is too okay

Goofy systems like the Electoral College aside, I believe that in the general case politicians get elected because a simple majority (50% + 1) of eligible voters who actually vote want them elected.

The will of the non-voter is entirely irrelevant, as is the cause of their non-voting status. Additionally, from a practical perspective, a non-voting constituent isn’t a constituent. Voting constituents on the losing side of the election are also irrelevant to politicians.

with the low voter turnouts we’ve seen the last decade plus, it makes it easy for politicians to know who to try to please – and it only seems to be – on average – 10-15% of the registered voters in any given district.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Is too okay

I think one of the issues is that politicians end up taking positions on issues only after being elected that they never took positions on before elections. I don’t recall a politician running for office claiming they will expand and extend copy protection laws. I don’t recall politicians running for office claiming they will do more to spy on Americans and invade our privacy. Yet, only after being elected do they suddenly do stuff that most voters will disapprove of. By then it’s too late. There is no way for voters to know what a politician will do after being elected based on what they say before election. If only they were transparent about their future plans before being elected instead of leaving certain things out.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Is too okay

I think one of the issues is that politicians end up taking positions on issues only after being elected that they never took positions on before elections.

Just like the current president who only voted present on almost everything so that he wouldn’t have a voting record to hold against him.

Also, elections are run and won on 1 or 2 issues, all the rest are never discussed. So there is no way to know about someone’s stance on copyright, encryption, etc.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Tell me he's the only one

Comey’s full of it. I’m flipping through the entire 2 hour hearing. At about an hour into it, he tells of how encrypted phones are going to hurt investigations. He says that parents of kidnapped children will ask him, “What do you mean you can’t find out who she’s been texting?” and that he won’t be able to answer them.

Since when did law enforcement need to get into someone’s phone to see who they’ve been texting? Given the right app, they may need to get into the phone to see the actual message, but not to see the recipients. The phone companies will happily help you out there, Mr. Comey.

Anonymous Coward says:

This is embarrasing...

Note that this guy is representing an area of central Texas not far from Austin. Lamar Smith also represents an area near Austin. I’m not sure what part but Ted Cruz is from Texas. I sense a pattern. A message to other Texans: We need to stop electing the biggest idiots just to prove that EVERYTHING is bigger in Texas. Okay?

Anonymous Coward says:

…but in turn it allows those who would do us harm [chuckles] to have a tool to do a great deal of harm where law enforcement can’t reach them. This is a problem that’s gotta be solved.

The problem that’s gotta be solved is getting this dipshit out of any discussion where technology is involved.
He’s a moron, and has no business making “smart people” decisions.

Zonker says:

Carter: If you’re following the Bill of Rights, you have every right to be able to go before a judge, present your probable cause, and if he sees it, that’s a right, get a warrant and get into that machine. And I don’t think there’s a right of privacy issue in the world that prevents you following the law.

Carter, you obviously don’t know anything about the Bill of Rights either. Here is the actual text of the Fourth Amendment:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

That clearly states the exact opposite of what Carter claims. We have the right to be secure against unreasonable search and seizures. The only exception to that right is if a warrant is issued and only upon probable cause and specifically describing what is to be searched or seized. That is an exception to our rights, not a right of it’s own.

Carter, you clearly failed grade school. You would fail a US Naturalization test if you were to take it today and denied citizenship if you hadn’t been born here. You are a disgrace and should never hold public office anywhere in the US on grounds of incompetence alone.

Carter, would you feel the same about encryption if we required all your communications be broadcast in the clear to the public? All cell phone conversations, emails, instant messages, photos, contacts, health records, bank transactions and account information? How about complete transparency of what is discussed in your position on Homeland Security Appropriations, Defense, and Defense subcommittees? No encryption and no redaction.

Sincerely,
A US citizen who actually knows and understands the US Bill of Rights and the utility of encryption.

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“That clearly states the exact opposite of what Carter claims.”

Unless of course, a part of the re-interpretation of the Bill of Rights after 9/11, was to re-purpose the term “unreasonable” to mean something less restrictive.

Thus,

…against unreasonable searches and seizures…

might become, for example,

…against unseasonable searches and seizures…“.

Anonymous Coward says:

Who is sitting around watching C-SPAN at home? That’s right. Whenever they’re on TV they’re playing to the gallery of voters who have nothing better to do all day than ensure that he’s looking out fer them regular folk who put him where he is (and he’d better not ferget it or they’ll get their friends at the barber shop or hair salon to vote fer t’other fella). Playing to the peanuts at home.

Anonymous Coward says:

Do you hear the sound of violins? Sure sounds to me like Comey is playing Rep. Carter like one.

…and this is the best that America can put up for office to make laws? Let me ask this then. Were Carter to come into your HR office looking for a job, would you hire him? This is what we have for leaders to make laws? Yah, there ougtta be a law alright. A law that says public servants should at least be educated in the fields they are to make laws over.

No damn wonder this country is in the shape it’s in.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I forgot to add. When George Bush was president, I was plumb embarrassed to have that yoyo address any other nation. All I could think of when I heard him give a speech was what they must be thinking while hearing him mumble through one. What they must think as of this example of being what the American people chose to represent them as their best.

I swear that man could give comedians a month’s worth of work in a half hour. And to make it worse, he sounded serious.

As an example, least we forget:

“I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family.” ~ George Bush, Greater Nashua, N.H., Jan. 27, 2000

~ “You work three jobs? … Uniquely American, isn’t it? I mean, that is fantastic that you’re doing that.” ~ George Bush, to a divorced mother of three, Omaha, Nebraska, Feb. 4, 2005

~ “Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.” ~ George Bush, Washington, D.C., Aug. 5, 2004

Anonymous Coward says:

“Holy crap! Rep. John Carter just learned about encryption!”

I think he’s referring to the difference between crackable encryption, and the new “uncrackable” technology that Sony, etc. is pushing, and that Comey is bitching about, and not necessarily encryption per se… in the sense that if said technology can make for an uncrackable cellphone, it can make for an uncrackable PC, and as such, would solve a lot of problems, yet at law enforcements expense.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“I think he’s referring to the difference between crackable encryption, and the new ‘uncrackable’ technology that Sony, etc. is pushing,”

Except that it’s not new, it’s been around for decades. It also shouldn’t be any more of a hindrance on investigations than the fact that you and I can have a private conversation that they don’t get to hear and never get to know about.

Comey and past FBI directors like to parade out the usual scary suspects any time they want to gain more access to data, but they never seem to be able to point to a case where the “bogeyman” got caught because they broke crypto.

We went through this exact same bunch of scare stories back in the ’90’s.

Anonymous Coward says:

Torture Decryption

Because there’s no way to “decrypt” a verbal conversation that is now stored entirely in our minds. That’s been true forever. Yet we don’t see Rep. Carter or Director Comey demanding recording devices to record every conversation.

Haven’t you heard? That’s what torture is for, to “decrypt” the mind! See how it all makes sense now?

Anonymous Coward says:

I guess Congressional Rep. John Carter, never heard about the Crypto Wars in the 1990’s. He decided to start a 2nd Crypto War while being totally oblivious to the 1st Crypto War.

I’m sure China and Russia are drooling and salivating at the mouth thinking about the prospects of installing their own backdoors/frontdoors in software and technology sold to American consumers and businesses.

Unless Rep. John Carter, is naive enough to think America will be the only country able to corner the entire global market with strictly American frontdoors/backdoors. Foolishly thinking other countries won’t be installing/mandating their own versions.

I’m disappointed in American leaders. It’s rather obvious the kind of rabbit hole they’re leading the entire world down. Either they’re not nearly as intelligent as they claim to be. Or they simply can’t come to grips with the thought of not having total information control over the global population. Or both.

Spaceman Spiff (profile) says:

In the old days

You had a really good safe with a very strong combination lock. The police had probably cause that you were hiding contraband in the safe. They would get a warrant from a judge, go to your place, and order you to open the safe. If you refused, then they could get the judge to place you in contempt of court, lock you up, and then get a safe cracker to open the safe (usually lots of diamond drills and time).

What’s the difference with encryption and encrypted files and systems today? Yes, good encryption is hard to break (like really good safes), but the remedies are similar.

We don’t need more restrictions on privacy. We need less! Otherwise, all the petty burglars out there (malware authors) will soon own all of our private stuff.

Idiots like Carter need to have all of their e-stuff pwnd and posted on the internet just to show them how stupid they are…

GEMont (profile) says:

Official Minionship

I don’t see the confusion here.

He was obviously hired specifically because of his lack of comprehension and understanding of the things he is being told to regulate.

How is this different from any of the myriad other typical government officials in charge of regulating anything else in America?

It is after all, so much easier for those who run America Co., to direct a moron who has no clue to do their bidding, than it is to direct someone who might actually realize that what they are demanding is stupid and foolish and who might then question their motives and intentions… like for example, someone like Snowden.

This man obviously knows how to do his job perfectly.

He signs the papers that are placed in front of him, speaks the words written out for him to say, and dutifully cashes his paychecks with a large grin on his face.

He is a perfect public servant.

Without such minions, a fascist government could not operate a profitable pseudo-government business like America Co..

Anonymous Coward says:

because I don’t know anything about this stuff

Then stand down, collect your monthly pay, STFU and let other people do their freaking job.

If that’s the case, then that’s the solution to the invaders from around the world who are trying to get in here

.
Holy shit! That’s some hardcore Red Scare thinking right there.

Please remind me, why the f**k does US allow representatives in technology, education, security and the like to persist as completely ignorant buffoons.

I mean you just had Lindsey Graham a.k.a “I’ve Never Sent an Email” spell out his incompetence around three weeks ago.

Also, what’s their excuse for being so unfamiliar with 15+ year-old technology ? Are these people routinely older than 65 or just ignorant ?

Don’t these old men and women have any younger counsellors to keep them in touch with mainstream technology (at least at the basic level) such as e-mail and putting a password on your phone ?

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: My new Mac is encrypted

…Not to keep governments from spying on me, though that is a nice side benefit…

That was probably just the NSA’s hard-coded backdoor process, built into all American and most foreign built hard drives for the last decade or so, installing itself – because you said YES to encryption, meaning you must be a bad guy who is hiding something.

So now only you and the USG can read your drive. 🙂

George Capehart (profile) says:

This guy sounds like the CISO at one of the companies I worked for

This is just an indicator of how clueless everyone in Washington is. Throughout my career, I repeatedly encountered clueless idiots hired into positions in which they were way out of their league because the people who were doing the hiring didn’t have a clue about what knowledge and skills the person needed to fill the job. Just another shining example of the Peter Principle at work . . .

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