As FBI Fearmongers About 'Going Dark' Because Of Encryption, Actual Wiretaps Almost Never Run Into Encryption

from the all-that-fuss-over-this? dept

The FBI has been really screaming its head off about the evils of encryption over the last year or so. Director James Comey keeps fearmongering about encryption, though when asked to give examples of cases where encryption had created problems, all of his “examples” turn up empty. Yet, the FBI keeps insisting that something needs to be done and, if not, there’s a real risk of “going dark.” One of Comey’s top deputies has insisted that tech companies need to “prevent encryption above all else.” And the fearmongering is working. Some politicians are already freaking out about this so-called “going dark” scenario.

In fact, next Wednesday, both the Senate Intelligence Commitee and the Senate Judiciary Committee are hosting “hearings” for Comey, about the issue of “going dark” due to encryption. The Intelligence Committee’s is called “Going Dark: Encryption, Technology, and the Balance Between Public Safety and Privacy,” while the Judiciary’s is “Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence, and the Challenges of ‘Going Dark.'”

So it’s rather interesting that before all that, the US Courts had released their own data on all wiretaps from 2014, in which it appears that encryption was almost never an issue at all, and in the vast majority of cases when law enforcement encountered encryption, it was able to get around it. Oh, and the number of wiretaps where encryption was even encountered has been going down rather than up:

The number of state wiretaps in which encryption was encountered decreased from 41 in 2013 to 22 in 2014. In two of these wiretaps, officials were unable to decipher the plain text of the messages. Three federal wiretaps were reported as being encrypted in 2014, of which two could not be decrypted. Encryption was also reported for five federal wiretaps that were conducted during previous years, but reported to the AO for the first time in 2014. Officials were able to decipher the plain text of the communications in four of the five intercepts.

Obviously, if more communications are encrypted by default, it’s true that the numbers here would likely rise. But the idea that there’s some massive problem that requires destroying the safety of much of the internet, seems more than a bit far-fetched.

As computer security expert Matt Blaze noted in response to all of this, aren’t there a lot of other tools out there that hide criminals from law enforcement as well? Why is there this moral panic about encryption?

In case you can’t read that, it says:

I’ll bet burglars wore gloves to avoid leaving fingerprint evidence a lot more than four times last year. Time for a war on gloves?

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Comments on “As FBI Fearmongers About 'Going Dark' Because Of Encryption, Actual Wiretaps Almost Never Run Into Encryption”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

"... and next on the agenda it looks like we have a vegan with their presentation, 'Eating Death: The Balance Between Meat and Veggies' "

“Going Dark: Encryption, Technology, and the Balance Between Public Safety and Privacy,”

Now there’s an absurd name if I’ve ever seen one, given who it’s coming from. As far as they’re concerned, the ‘balance’ is completely one sided, with ‘Privacy’ always being tossed out the window as soon as they claim that what they’re doing is related to ‘public safety’.

They have no interest, at all, in preserving a ‘balance’ between privacy and public safety, all they care about is access to all the data they want, whenever they want it, with the minimum of hoops like warrants to jump through, all in the name of ‘public safety’.

Seegras (profile) says:

Re: "... and next on the agenda it looks like we have a vegan with their presentation, 'Eating Death: The Balance Between Meat and Veggies' "

Actually, it’s worse.

Because privacy is part of security, but surveillance is counter to it.

We can make technology secure for everyone, or we can make it insecure for everyone, so everyone can spy. And with insecure technology, we’re opening up our infrastructure to attack, not just from out own spooks, but from everybody else.

To quote Bruce Schneier from

We can’t choose a world where the US gets to spy but China doesn’t, or even a world where governments get to spy and criminals don’t. We need to choose, as a matter of policy, communications systems that are secure for all users, or ones that are vulnerable to all attackers. It’s security or surveillance.

Anonymous Coward says:

This fits with the latest fear mongering about the threat of hypothetical “lone wolves”. How about investigating the people you already have reasonable suspicion of instead of chasing dragons? The Tsarnaev brothers and the underwear bomber were reported by foreign intelligence. There are dangerous people out there right now who can be individually surveilled under legal authority and these intelligence agencies keep asking for the ability to conduct surveillance on everyone because of an imagined threat profile? It’s insanity.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: It's not insanity if you're doing it with a purpose

No, it’s ensuring job security and justifying their current budget.

Only watching actual suspects takes a lot less ‘wiggle room’ in the law, which would remove the excuses for why they need to grab Everything, and it would also require a lot less money, which means their budget would take a hit next year.

By insisting that they need to spy on everyone, all the time, they maintain their power(if not expand it), and keep their budget nice and insanely large.

Anonymous Coward says:


Holy bimbobrains! They are complaining that people don’t send all their information in Plain text? Something that even the greenest of IT students agree on should have been done away with many years ago!
They want to go back to the 80’s and 90’s where even the poorest understanding of technology could be used to exploit the system, except they want to do it today now that everybody is using the internet and every kid with a power fantasy could exploit anyone with a five minute search and where technology and development tools are used and taught about in schools.
There are plenty of exploits and unencrypted information right now, but what they want is nothing short of insane!
How is it possible for them to be either so stupid or so malicious?
No matter how many terrorists, pedophiles and murderers they catch it will never be able to match the chaos of what they themselves are trying to do.
Maybe we should create an agency to catch them. How about the UCSA (Use Common Sense Agency)?

Anonymous Coward says:

it’s got nothing to do with terrorism or crime, it’s because Hollywood and the entertainment industries are scared of not being able to get a lead on who is downloading what from where. every one of these Trade Deals all contain clauses to do with copyright and downloading illegally. it isn’t just Pharma that wants a free ride!

Seegras (profile) says:

Re: Going Dark?

Do we as a culture and society want secure communications or should everything be open to surveillance?

And please note, that:

– “open to surveillance” means “open to surveillance by everybody”, including foreign secret services and criminals.


– “open to surveillance” also means “everything open to surveillance”, including things like the secret services themselves, the army, and things like nuclear power plants.

It’s just an incredibly stupid idea, even from the point of view of national security.

Anonymous Coward says:

Evolution is Slow - Behavioral Change Need Not Be

Phil (Zimmerman, PGP’s author) has been sayin’ for *decades* that the only way to make encryption socially unexceptionable is to make it ubiquitous. If EVERYBODY uses encryption, then NONE of us stands out.

Let us all increasingly flock to the altar of Phil, our high-priest and prophet of privacy. Use encryption in as many contexts as you can, and tell the gov’t to go suck lemons.

tqk (profile) says:

Yet they go to hell and back to stick it to Ulbricht for a crypto network that fell like a house of cards.

I can’t believe all these people (FBI, House & Senate) are just stupid or ignorant. They all have staffs whose job it is to keep them informed and up to date. Yet, it seems the FBI has institutionally forgotten the Clipper Chip, PGP, Zimmerman, and their own decision to just not worry about it. Yet now, again, they do want to worry about it. This is stupid. Comey’s looking stupider every moment he or his minions dwell on it. They’re infecting whole other countries’ politicos (Cameron, Harper, Key, …) and institutions with this foolishness.

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