Senator McCain Promises To Introduce Legislation To Backdoor Encryption, Make Everyone Less Safe

from the bad-ideas dept

Two months ago, the Obama administration came to the conclusion that mandating backdoors to encryption through legislation was a non-starter. They seemed to recognize that it was mostly a bad idea and (more importantly) that Congress would not approve such legislation. Almost immediately, we noted that intelligence officials (almost gleefully) noted that they really just needed to wait for the next terrorist attack to restart the campaign. Here was Robert Litt, the top lawyer in the intelligence community:

Although ?the legislative environment is very hostile today,? the intelligence community?s top lawyer, Robert S. Litt, said to colleagues in an August e-mail, which was obtained by The Post, ?it could turn in the event of a terrorist attack or criminal event where strong encryption can be shown to have hindered law enforcement.?

There is value, he said, in ?keeping our options open for such a situation.?

Given all that, it was disappointing that the Obama administration then took the cowardly way out, and refused to take an official public stance against backdooring encryption.

Either way, with the attacks in Paris last week, it almost seems like the anti-encryption crowd was somewhat gleeful in their response. Why, here was the exact terrorist attack they needed to push their agenda.

And, of course, the idea of mandated backdoors is back on the table, with Senator John McCain announcing plans to introduce just such legislation:

?In the Senate Armed Services we’re going to have hearings on it and we’re going to have legislation,? Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who chairs the committee, told reporters Tuesday, calling the status quo ?unacceptable.?

Of course, that legislation was ready to go, sitting in a top drawer just waiting for this kind of situation. And now we have to waste all sorts of time responding to this idiocy even though just months ago we went through this whole debate all over again, during which it was pretty clear that backdooring encryption makes us all much less safe. It puts everyone at greater risk, not less.

So the question remains: why do officials and politicians like Senator McCain want to undermine our safety and security? And, even more bizarrely, how is this the same John McCain who was on the other side during the last crypto wars?

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Comments on “Senator McCain Promises To Introduce Legislation To Backdoor Encryption, Make Everyone Less Safe”

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88 Comments
Brent Ashley (profile) says:

Re: Cricket

Oh, it’s even more dangerous with US football. The crafty coaches cover their mouths with their clipboards so the TV cameras don’t see them talking to their players. They could be sending covert messages to ISIS for all we know but we’ve been stymied by this clever obfuscation ever since Snowden. We need to mandate and enforce transparent plexiglass clipboards for all football coaches immediately, because terror!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Cricket

…The crafty coaches cover their mouths with their clipboards so the TV cameras don’t see them talking to their players…

Not to mention baseball & softball coaches and players using sign language! Ever wonder why the tv cameras are always trying to get the catcher’s signs to the pitcher?

Baron von Robber says:

And by doing so Sen. McCain, you also will ruin online banking, banking itself, financial institutions, your own email, all stolen laptops/flashdrives with PCI and HIPAA information (can’t encrypt those drives without a failed backdoor , amirite?), etc.

McCain (and other technophobes). You – cannot – create – a – foolproof – backdoor. It WILL be broken.

You might as well build roads that the bad guys can’t use. What? You can’t?! Oh my.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Fiancial Institutions

I remember back when Clinton was president and pushing hard for back doors in encryption. Someone mentioned bankers and Clinton said that they would be exempt, of course, “because bankers are GOOD citizens”. As if though the rest of the population were BAD citizens. Subsequent banking scandals and crises show what good citizens Clinton’s banker buddies were, I think.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Oh it gets better actually. The other countries/governments wouldn’t need the US golden key, they’d just use their own. Kinda hard to tell another country ‘No, we will not break out security just because you want us to’ when you’ve already done it once.

So there wouldn’t be a security vulnerability, there would be lots, and the odds of all of them staying secret for more than a week is lower than zero.

pixelpusher220 (profile) says:

Snowden

if we’d done this 10 years ago…wouldn’t Snowden have been able to leak this ‘golden key’? Then what?

Obviously Snowden the actual person wouldn’t have leaked the actual key but Alrich Ames certainly might have…

When you have secrets, they WILL be revealed eventually if they are shared with anyone outside of your own mind.

mcinsand (profile) says:

if only we had accountability

We need a way to prosecute any elected official that votes for such a measure when (not if) those backdoors are cracked and used against us. Anyone willing to back such legislation to criminalize weakening security would definitely get my vote. However, there’s no chance of either party backing anything like secure, non-backdoored encryption.

John85851 (profile) says:

Re: Re: if only we had accountability

And who’s going to vote them out of office over this issue?

Too many people still believe the idea of “if you’ve done nothing wrong, then you’ve got nothing to hide”. So why should they care if there’s a backdoor?

And too many people also use insecure, public wifi because it’s easy, without even thinking that their data could be stolen.

So another hole in security isn’t really that big of a deal.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: if only we had accountability

2 Questions:

1. Can you vote someone out of office? (seems to me the only say in it is at elections and then it is not always possible to vote someone out, while it is always possible to vote someone in! “Voting out” is an interpretation, not an action.)

2. How can a New Yorker vote any representative from Nebraska out? (FPTP and Geographically chosen candidates do not produce very nationally accountable candidates.)

meh says:

V

I know why you did it. I know you were afraid. Who wouldn’t be? War, terror, disease. There were a myriad of problems which conspired to corrupt your reason and rob you of your common sense. Fear got the best of you, and in your panic you turned to the now high chancellor, Adam Sutler. He promised you order, he promised you peace, and all he demanded in return was your silent, obedient consent.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 so, kill all the mathematicians?

Statistics is so easy to manipulate and as soon as you start to use mathematics in reality, you realize the dependency on the initial conditions, boundary conditions and termination conditions. If you understand a field in reality and the testing methods good enough, you can manipulate math!

Therefore math is political and should be made illegal!

teknosapien (profile) says:

Data Collection

Data Collection has been going on for years.
From Project Escalation to the newest Mete data gathered by the NSA. This information has been shared with allies in hopes of stopping these acts of terrorism.
AND IT HASN’T worked
How is back door entrance to encryption going to be a game changer.

Maybe they should start looking at how they conduct business, rather than strip our rights and protections away one by one

teknosapien (profile) says:

Data Collection

Data Collection has been going on for years.
From Project Escalation to the newest Meta data gathered by the NSA. This information has been shared with allies in hopes of stopping these acts of terrorism.
AND IT HASN’T worked
How is back door entrance to encryption going to be a game changer.

Maybe they should start looking at how they conduct business, rather than strip our rights and protections away one by one

Anonymous Coward says:

“McCain was more direct when asked if he would require tech companies to build a portal into their encryption for government officials.

“Yeah, I would,” he said.

But exactly how McCain and his allies might accomplish this is unclear.”
TORTURE??
http://thehill.com/policy/cybersecurity/260522-paris-revives-battle-over-data-encryption

TasMot (profile) says:

Re: Why Won't The Backdoor Concept Die?

how is this the same John McCain who was on the other side during the last crypto wars?

Why Won’t the Backdoor Concept Die?

I think the answer to both of these questions is actually going to be the very old saw “Follow The Money”. It would not surprise me at all to find out who is constantly putting up the money to keep pushing this agenda.

The bad part is that the supposed bad guys they want to catch are not going to use the broken encryption. They are going to keep using the existing good encryption and create more “NOT BROKEN” encryption and use that.

Only those US citizens forced to use the broken encryption will be exposed (to everybody in the world) and anybody with a little bit of brains will be adding their own un-broken encryption on top of the broken encryption.

One fall-out I hope they are preparing for is the increased costs to business as people lose faith in the “non” security of online transactions and banks, stores, and government offices are going to have to start hiring a lot more workers to service the people who have to come to the store/shop/office/tellers to transact business because all of the online security will be broken.

Good Luck with That!

Almost Anonymous (profile) says:

Re: Why Won't The Backdoor Concept Die?

Quantum encryption will be even worse, for their purposes. The encrypted data cannot be “cracked” or copied without altering the actual data itself, thereby making these acts meaningless. Even though the concept has been around for a long time, it doesn’t seem like these golden key guys have even heard of it.

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

Anonymous Coward says:

Will he also insist that all letters and parcels are passed to the postal and parcel service unsealed, so that the contents can be copied and listed to the spy agencies, along with all phone call being recorded at Bluffdale. Why not pass a law enabling the police to copy all papers and electronic devices carried by a person, or held in their property, on demand?
I mean, if he wants encryption backdoored, why not go all the way and insist that all communications by any channel can be examined by the security services at any time.

Jim B. says:

No evidence

Seriously, does anyone mean to put forth the idea (since they were attempting to push for momentum in backdooring encryption) that they would have had it designed, implemented and disseminated in time to stop the Paris terrorist attack? It takes a long time. Encryption technologies are open source. Terrorists could simply take the technology modify it and use it with impunity?

NeghVar (profile) says:

These politicians are complete idiots. They have no clue of the repercussion that will result from their agendas. If such a bill would pass that requires all forms of encryption to have a government backdoor, then opensource projects would move overseas. Perhaps join SlySoft in St. John’s, Antigua and Barbuda. from there, make the encryption available.
An advantage of open source is that you can’t hide backdoors in it. They will be found by others and removed

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