Telegraph Publishes The Dumbest Article On Encryption You'll Ever Read… Written By David Cameron's Former Speechwriter

from the no dept

Over the weekend, the Telegraph (which, really, is probably only the second or third worst UK tabloid), published perhaps the dumbest article ever on encryption, written by Clare Foges, who until recently, was a top speech writer for UK Prime Minister David Cameron (something left unmentioned in the article). The title of the article should give you a sense of its ridiculousness: Why is Silicon Valley helping the tech-savvy jihadists? I imagine her followups will including things like “Why is Detroit helping driving-savvy jihadists?” and “Why are farmers feeding food-savvy jihadists?”

The article is perhaps even dumber than the headline, but let’s dig in.

What will it take? 129 dead on American soil? 129 killed in California? What level of atrocity, what location will it take for the Gods of Silicon Valley to wake up to the dangerous game they are playing by plunging their apps and emails ever deeper into encryption, so allowing jihadists to plot behind an impenetrable wall?

“Plunging their apps even deeper into encryption”? I don’t even know what that means, but let’s flip it around: How many hacked credit cards, medical information and email accounts will it take for the Gods of Silicon Valley to wake up and recognize they need to better protect user data. Because that’s what’s actually happening. Encryption is not about “allowing jihadists to plot behind an impenetrable wall” it’s about protecting your data — even that of Clare Foges — from malicious attackers who want access to it. Or does Foges and her former boss David Cameron communicate out in the open where any passerby can snoop on their messages?

Does this mean some bad people can use encryption? Yes. But it’s not as “impenetrable” as she seems to think (we’ll get to her knowledge of technology and encryption in a moment). Even if you’re using encryption, there is still plenty of metadata revealed. Furthermore, there have always been ways to communicate in less-than-understandable or less-than-trackable way — and the terrorist community has used them forever. They don’t need to rely on “Silicon Valley” giants.

But, more to the point, undermining encryption makes everyone significantly less safe. The whole idea that weakening encryption makes people more safe is profoundly ignorant. Even more ridiculously, Foges blames Ed Snowden for this:

Why? It goes back to Edward Snowden, the weaselly inadequate whose grasp for posterity has proved a boon for Isil. They should be gratefully chanting his name in Raqqa, for it was Snowden?s revelations about government surveillance methods that triggered this extraordinary race towards deeper encryption.

This, of course, is wrong. Stupidly, ignorantly, wrong. Again, studies have shown that post-Snowden, terrorists didn’t change anything in how they communicate. They were already using encryption and reports suggest that they’d been using encryption going back more than a decade. Snowden’s revelations only pointed out how governments were doing mass surveillance on ordinary citizens. Everyone — including various terrorist organizations — already assumed (correctly) that they were spying on terrorist organizations and sympathizers. So it’s not clear what Foges is claiming here, other than that she’s pulling a Dana Perino and shielding her ex-boss from criticism by blaming the whistleblower.

All this is making the job of the security services infinitely harder. FBI Director James Comey calls the challenge ?going dark?. Leads are followed until they hit the brick wall of indecipherable data. A few years ago law enforcement agencies could approach Hotmail or Google with a warrant and get vital information to stop horrors unfolding. Now the data they salvage is often gobbledegook ? a load of encrypted numbers that are impossible to read. They are trying to save lives but are being frustrated by encrypted technology.

This is also astoundingly ignorant and wrong. To date, the FBI and others have failed to present a single example of where encryption has actually been a problem in deciphering this information. Also, naming Hotmail and Google is wrong as well, as neither Hotmail nor Gmail currently offer end-to-end encryption in a manner that anyone really uses. Google does have a test version available, but the number of people using it is barely notable. So, yes, if law enforcement goes to Google with a valid warrant, it’s going to turn over your emails.

This isn?t about privacy, it?s about profit

This may be the most ignorant statement of all. Encryption also means that these same companies cannot scan the contents of your email, for example to place ads against them. In fact, most people have noted that the reason Google hasn’t really embraced end-to-end encryption in Gmail is that it would undermine the business model of that product. But, Foges is on a roll of ignorant bullshit and she can’t let little things like facts get in the way.

And, of course she concludes with the usual ridiculousness about how she’s just so sure that if they put their minds and money to it, they can figure out how to fix this “problem.”

The global tech industry made around $3.7 trillion last year. They employ some of the brightest people on the planet. Apple et al could, if they wanted, employ a fraction of these resources to work out how we can simultaneously keep the good guys? data secure and keep the bad guys in plain sight. The geniuses of Silicon Valley would be more than a match for the dunderheads in the desert.

Except, overestimating your side and underestimating the enemy seems like a pretty stupid idea — especially when you’re pushing for the impossible. And the idea that you can magically “keep the good guys? data secure and keep the bad guys in plain sight” is pretty laughable. You don’t need to be an expert to recognize the ridiculousness of that statement. Who do you determine are “the good guys” and who are “the bad guys”? Is that something you can code? Because, based on this, I’d argue that Foges is “a bad guy.” Is she okay with her information being passed in plain sight? And, of course, the reality is even more ridiculous because, as has been explained in great detail in the past, encryption where “the good guys” have access is encryption that doesn’t work — and thus it’s encryption that makes us all less safe.

Asking for encryption that only protects “the good guys” is publicly asking for the impossible. It’s an astoundingly ignorant question, that anyone with any amount of expertise would tell you is not a good question to ask.

On Twitter, some people have been pushing back on Foges, and her response has been… well, less than inspiring. When people have pointed out that she seems ignorant of the facts, she not only misses the point, but seems proud of her ignorance.

It’s fairly stunning, but Foges article gets almost everything wrong. It doesn’t understand encryption. It doesn’t understand what tech companies are doing. It doesn’t understand how security works. It’s just… wrong. When someone on Twitter confronted her about this, she insisted that she interviewed people who felt that it was possible to create such encryption, but then went silent when lots and lots of tech experts asked her to name a single technology professional who agreed with her.

Similarly, it’s somewhat bizarre that the Telegraph doesn’t note that Foges spent the past few years as UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s chief speech writer, and still lists herself as an advisor to Cameron. Seems like something that should have been disclosed. The newspaper isn’t exactly known for its accuracy, but this is an embarrassment for both Foges and the Telegraph.

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Comments on “Telegraph Publishes The Dumbest Article On Encryption You'll Ever Read… Written By David Cameron's Former Speechwriter”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Dumb publication publishes dumb article

I have to imagine the crossover audience for Telegraph and Techdirt is incredibly small. Therefore the more realistic option appears to be linkbait. I know TD has to pay the bills, but it’s unfortunate we’ve devolved to articles with titles like “the dumbest article you’ll ever read…”.

tracyanne says:

Re: Re: Re: Dumb publication publishes dumb article

Your comments assume that Techdirt readers only socialise with Techdirt readers, and don’t know anyone who a) doesn’t read Techdirt and b) only know other techie types.

What you forget is that this a is a resource that can be used to inform non Techdirt readers, via Twitter, Facebook and a host of other social networks. It’s a resource I make extensive use of.

Mike Taylor (profile) says:

Re: Dumb publication publishes dumb article

TO be fair to the Telegraph, this description does badly mischaracterise it. It’s not a a tabloid at all, but one of the four broadsheets, or so-called “quality newspapers” in the UK. All four of those (Times, Telegraph, Guardian, Independent) are massively better than any of the tabloids (Sun, Mirror, Star, Mail, Express). And a case can be made that the Telegraph is the second best of these (behind the Guardian): the Indy is sadly pushing relentlessly down into tabloid territory, and Times may be fine, but it’s irrelevant as no-one reads it behind its paywall.

So I would say the Telegraph is the UK’s second best newspaper … which of course makes it all the more reprehensible that they would publish such arrant nonsense as Foges’ piece.

iucounu (profile) says:

Re: Dumb publication publishes dumb article

It’s not actually a tabloid – it’s a broadsheet, and used to be well-respected. But in recent years the owners have run it into the ground, and now it functions largely as a mouthpiece for the Conservative party. (Well, it always did, but now it’s utterly shameless and blatant about it.)

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Funnily enough, in this case it is black and white. With encryption, there are only two possibilities:

Encryption that is secure for everyone, including the ‘bad guys’.


Encryption that is secure for no-one, including the ‘good guys’.

Those are the only two options, the liars just refuse to admit it.

Anonymouse says:

Stupidity knows no end

This is PURE propaganda, there isn’t even a spec of honest reporting here.

Saying that encryption is the solution to the fact that its only one means to communicate. Plus the fact apps are only one way. So if you can record everything on the internet, you believe that people wont just meet in a private area and discuss the same thing?

Control is an illusion. IF you want to assist in deterring poor judgement, first start with creating laws to prevent the greedy Governments from interfering with other countries laws and politics. Plus go back to old fashion investigations, get OFF YOUR LAZY ASSES and get into the field. Having all the internet data come to you, is a recipe for abuse and blackmail and not investigating real people with criminal intent.

DannyB (profile) says:

Please choose one

Dear Clare Foges,
Please choose one of the following two mutually exclusive items:

[_] Secure systems
[x] Insecure systems

To help you decide, I’ll briefly describe each option.

Secure systems have no back doors, are inaccessible to hackers, and also inaccessible to the government and law enforcement.

Systems with back doors are Insecure, accessible to the government and law enforcement, and also accessible to China, Russia, Anonymous and hackers.

Anonymous Coward says:

but if we don't give up all our privacy, the terrorists will win!!

All the arguments against encryption are a red herring — as are the vast majority of arguments of any kind that use terrorism or pedophilia or nuclear annihilation (and formerly such evils as homosexuality, masturbation, and witchcraft) as their core. It’s the ‘heavy artillery’ that wins arguments by associating something with people’s worst fears.

The fight over encryption is really all about control and power, and whether this power can be trusted to the people, or whether the ‘powers that be’ should have exclusive oversight and control over virtually every aspect of our lives (for the good of the people, of course).

The notion of a fully-encrypted internet scares both governments and private industry alike. Snowden’s revelations unfortunately took much of the focus off ISP mass-snooping, using techniques such as deep packet inspection, which produces valuable usage data that can be marketed far and wide. You can be certain that companies such as Sandvine and Allot (which make DPI equipment) would like to see the death of encryption, and could very well be one of the forces pushing the “encryption = terrorism + pedosexualism” argument.

David says:

Re: Re: Short version

Well, you could equally well say “start with the conclusion and make cookies to support it”. Because while her support takes the form of making arguments, there is no factual relation to the conclusion. And since most people prefer cookies to arguments, she should really consider reverting to making the former in order to support the conclusion.

Chris Brand says:

Snowden's fault

There is actually something to the quote “it was Snowden’s revelations about government surveillance methods that triggered this extraordinary race towards deeper encryption”
Snowden did have a big influence on the push for more encryption. Of course as the article points out, it wasn’t the terrorists who were demanding it, but the innocent citizens who discovered that their government was spying on them, despite the constitution. It is probably fair to say that if Snowden hadn’t spoken up, we wouldn’t have seen the big tech companies embracing encryption to the extent that they have in the last few years.

ECA (profile) says:

To funny.

Lets ask a question..
Do the OLD ways to protect messages still work? YES.
Do they also work on the NET? YES
Are there things about the NET, that can make Private msg MORE protected? It can..

Problems our Covert people dont like..
1. TRANSLATORS…they have had problems with this. and NOT having enough of them.
2. Computer people. MOSt of the agencies dont LIKE COMPUTERS..and dont understand most of HOW to do things with them.

HOW to fix..
ALL msg in TXT format, and translated with google translate…


Klaus says:

Re: No clicks for tabloids

Small nit-pick, but the Telegraph isn’t considered to be a “tabloid” but a “broadsheet”, like The Times, The Guardian & The Independent.

That said, it’s web presence is decidedly tabloid, aping The Sun & The Daily Mail. It’s also quite telling that The Telegraph has pulled the comments from Foges so-called article…

New Mexico Mark says:


Clare: “So only people with advanced tech knowledge are allowed to write about technology?”

Response: “So only people with journalism credentials are allowed to point out the fact that you a hack? How about pointing out that even beginner writers are not arrogant enough to shun subject matter experts?”

In fact, in the spirit of the article being discussed:

“The global media industry made trillions of dollars last year. They employ some of the most ignorant, yet arrogant people on the planet. MSNBC, Time Warner, The Telegraph, et al could, if they wanted, employ a fraction of these resources to work out how we can vet drivel like this to try to maintain a minimally intelligent discourse on complex topics.”

Don’t think it’ll happen, though.

Anonymous Coward says:

You are damn right it's about profits....

and thank a holy horse for that. I am for once glad that part of this talk is about profits. They know that a great big part of the world will be inacessible to them when you ban them from making “golden keys” to other countries and the other countries want them too.
They know that you will put an incredible amount of extra expenses on them, fulfilling your every whim.
I don’t like the over capatalistic part of our society, but right now it is a big honking elephant in your way.
I really truely feel for the people who died or were otherwise affected by any terrorist attack, but people like Clare Foges, and what they are trying to do, scares me a heck of alot more.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

The TSA-approved luggage locks debacle cinched this one.

That demonstrated why backdoored encryption will fail in exactly the same way.

I cannot imagine that Ms. Foges can be so dim with her given resume to not get that.

Ergo, I’m assuming that she’s being willfully ignorant, probably because her paycheck depends on such ignorance.

She’s not being stupid, she’s being partisan.


sigalrm (profile) says:

Re: The TSA-approved luggage locks debacle cinched this one.

“She’s not being stupid, she’s being partisan.”

She’s also targeting a particular audience which is, according to Jake:

Minor correction: The [i]Telegraph[/i] is not a tabloid in the original sense of the word; they still sell physical copies in broadsheet format, and would regard doing anything else as decidedly improper. (They and their target demographic probably think any idea thought up after about 1965 is highly improper, come to that.)

Subtle reminder: You can tear her twitter account apart all you want. Make every valid point in the book. Hell, win the argument on the internet even.

And her target demographic will never even hear that there was a discussion.

Anonymous Coward says:

Ha-Ha-Ha, they will never forgive you for describing the famous newspaper as a tabloid. It’s a broadsheet. Like The Times and The Guardian, but supposedly posher and better-connected.

On the spectrum of UK newspapers, The Telegraph is the last redoubt of retired red-faced spluttering colonels (“Bring me another G&T before breakfast, James, and be quick about it”) who insist on their newspaper being ironed by that buxom young lady who is always on her knees at 4 am preparing the fire “lovely young figure, what-ho!”. In short the natural habitat of the “Hang-em and flog-em” brigade (as they used to be called, probably still are).

I think you’re not there intended audience – they know what their subscribers expect and they give it to them red, dripping and raw.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I was personally surprised to learn that GCHQ invented encryption.

Next up in the dock, all those bastards from Bletchly Park! Those a-holes are the ones who really started this avalanche!

Fairly stunning performance this, even for Britain. This sort of performance used to get you laughed out of town. If Monty Python were still in business, they’d have been bunged into jail long ago with nitwits like this in charge.

Personanongrata says:

Know-Nothing Nitwit

The newspaper isn’t exactly known for its accuracy, but this is an embarrassment for both Foges and the Telegraph.

Especially in light of the fact that Glenn Greenwald demolished this specious claim less than a week ago over at The Intercept.

Exploiting Emotions About Paris to Blame Snowden, Distract from Actual Culprits Who Empowered ISIS
Glenn Greenwald

Nov. 15 2015, 7:23 a.m.

One key premise here seems to be that prior to the Snowden reporting, The Terrorists helpfully and stupidly used telephones and unencrypted emails to plot, so Western governments were able to track their plotting and disrupt at least large-scale attacks. That would come as a massive surprise to the victims of the attacks of 2002 in Bali, 2004 in Madrid, 2005 in London, 2008 in Mumbai, and April 2013 at the Boston Marathon. How did the multiple perpetrators of those well-coordinated attacks — all of which were carried out prior to Snowden’s June 2013 revelations — hide their communications from detection?

Clare Foges another in long line of know-nothing nitwits found infesting governments world-wide.

Anonymous Coward says:

ISIS OPSEC manual is a fake !

The alleged ISIS manual is in reality Cyberkov’s own security manual for journalists and activists written in July 2014. The original manual can be found here, and its main goal is to assist journalists and activists (especially those working in warzones like Gaza) protect their digital identity, their sources and their core ability to provide free flow of information to the rest of the world.

“Instead of propagating negative articles about the use of encryption, Journalists should be on the forefront of *defending encryption,* seeing as how it provides critical protection for them and their sources.”

Anonymous Coward says:

I want bullets that will only kill the bad guys and not the good ones.

I also want flash-bangs that won’t go off into a room where a toddler is sleeping.

I want bulletproof vests that will open themselves when the bullet of a honest policeman protecting the community needs to take down a crook.
(Corollary: OK, I know this one is really hard to do. The “honest” part, I mean…)

Oh, wait, this one this one is better. I want politicians that do what their voters want and not what their bribes tell them to do.

If we are going to ask for unicorns, at least make them with wings.

Mark Wing (user link) says:

Federal law requires Google to protect its user’s data. The government is talking out both sides of its mouth:

“Protect your customer’s data or face steep fines and even criminal penalties, but not so much protection that we can’t get to it.”

Of course the problem is that the people who least understand technology are the ones making public policy.

tqk (profile) says:

gnupg attachments anyone?

Also, naming Hotmail and Google is wrong as well, as neither Hotmail nor Gmail currently offer end-to-end encryption in a manner that anyone really uses.

Besides, has she never heard of email attachments? Just wait’ll she hears that I can use gpg/pgp to encrypt any text file, then attach it to an email sent via *any* email provider. We’d better lock up Stallman, Torvalds, and de Raadt now, and all of Microsoft and Apple.

Do people who write newspaper articles these days no longer read newspapers? Are they only watching Twitter and Facebook instead now? You’d think someone writing newspaper articles might have heard about the OPM hack along with the hundreds of other stories (eg. Ashley Madison!) about bad guys getting into places they shouldn’t have. I agree, this is about the dumbest, most content-less, most air-headed article on encryption I’ve ever heard of, and that’s saying a lot considering the garbage Comey and Cameron have puked out lately.

That One Guy (profile) says:

"Your expertise is only applicable when I say it is!"

The global tech industry made around $3.7 trillion last year. They employ some of the brightest people on the planet.

Now let’s add the logical extension to that:

So when those bright people tell you something is impossible, maybe listen to them.

On one hand they claim the tech industry employs countless brilliant people, highly skilled on the subject. On the other hand they completely dismiss what those brilliant people are saying, insisting that despite knowing nothing at all on the subject they’re sure that something that countless numbers of those people have claimed is impossible can be achieved if they’d just ‘try harder’.

For heaping praise on the skills and knowledge of those employed by the tech industry, they sure seem to hold that very same knowledge in contempt.

tracyanne says:

Re: "Your expertise is only applicable when I say it is!"

For heaping praise on the skills and knowledge of those employed by the tech industry, they sure seem to hold that very same knowledge in contempt.

To be fair: Actually they don’t… hold the knowledge in contempt, that is. They just have unreasonable expectations of us. Far too often, almost all the time, in fact, we deliver, as if by magic, things we have initially said are impossible or too difficult, and which they are unable to understand, both as a concept and as a process. So yeah the technology ignorant do expect that we can pull Unicorns (with wings) out of our arses.

Anonymous Coward says:

The saddest part of all? She’s 33 years old, and has yet to realize that her name’s actually spelled Claire Foughs.

Looking for her age, I found an article profiling her at the Daily Mail (Yay! The number one tabloid!). Turns out she’s also a poet/ice-cream-truck driver who

has bemoaned the decline of rhetoric and the ‘slow sterilisation of public debate’, which, she has said, risks ‘impoverishing politics and perhaps endangering democracy itself’.

I shit you not.

ridulak says:

Why aren't we all putting this back on the governments?

It seems to me there is a very simple response to be made to these ridiculous demands. Do it yourself. The western governments employ thousands of security and encryption specialists, in the intelligence services and in academia. Rather than crying about lack of cooperation, get your own people to invent a process that meets your requirements whilst maintaining the security you claim you care about for your own citizens. If it genuinely does that, then you shouldn’t have any difficulty getting the tech industry to adopt it.

Why not do this? The only reason not to that I can see is that they know it’s impossible, and anything they come up with will be laughed out the door because of glaring inadequacies.

David says:

Easy to work out!

Apple et al could, if they wanted, employ a fraction of these resources to work out how we can simultaneously keep the good guys’ data secure and keep the bad guys in plain sight.

Just dissolve the NSA and you’ll see the bad guys in plain sight registering as unemployed.

It’s a no-brainer but when has the government ever listened to advice?

David (profile) says:


To add to the WTF factor: The twitter feed has swerved into accusing the guy who pointed out the writer’s gross mistakes of ‘mansplaining’, with comments such as:

He sounds like a typical silicon valley misogynist scrambling to keep women like you out of his boys club.

Apologise for trying to discredit Clare’s opinions & for undermining her autonomy just because she’s a woman.

Personally I’d suggest he also learn to step back when women express their opinions.

to act as a shield against criticism.

As if gross journalistic negligence should not be criticized because the writer was a woman. As if being a woman had any relevance whatsoever to the objections being raised.

Anonymous Coward says:

“it was Snowden’s revelations about government surveillance methods that triggered this extraordinary race towards deeper encryption”

Wrong. It was NSA and GCHQ spying.

What is a “good guy”? What is a “bad guy”? Who defines those terms? To me David Cameron and Barack Obama are bad guys; Julian Assange and Edward Snowden are good guys… To them is the opposite.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Good guys vs. Bad guys.

I’m pretty sure good guys and bad guys are used the way friendly and enemy are used by militaries (e.g. friendly fire or front toward enemy).

The only difference, by my understanding, is that white moves first.

Pulling from Cold War history any technology that is able to be used by white but not by black will be captured and re-engineered to make a version only usable by black, and both sides will strive to defeat or even override the enemy’s friendly-only tech.

It still amazes me this — I want to say Machiavellian notion but don’t want to besmirch Machiavelli — that subversive methods of governance are somehow a lesser crimes than exposure of subversive methods of governance to the public.

What this reveals about those who make such arguments is that they are far more interested in their immediate overlords and their objectives, rather than the good of the nation as a whole. Better to be the one who fellates the devil in Hell than yet another commoner in Heaven.

Anonymous Coward says:

RE: What will it take?

What will it take? 129 dead on American soil? 129 killed in California? What level of atrocity, what location will it take for the Gods of Post Office to wake up to the dangerous game they are playing by allowing people to send SEALED envelopes, so allowing jihadists to plot behind an impenetrable wall?

(hey it’s better than the car analogy I came up with)

Monday (profile) says:

It's 'Terrorism' of another kind.

I watched a show discussing encryption on FOX TV last night, and the Elenchus bordered on sociopathic and it was completely and utterly baffling to me so much, where I reached the point where the only thing I could muster was a Mark Twain-ish laugh, you know, THAT ONE, where’s what’s the one that’s gonna be our greatest weapon. All I could do was just shake my head.

We are a lucky and fortunate bunch of individuals because we get to watch these ill-equipped fools go in to debates and ‘guest appearances’ without any knowledge of just how this internet of things works – not the slightest idea.
I’m not an IT Pro, but I know all about Windows 10 and telemetry, and I definitely know that it is not Ed Snowden‘s fault that terrorists know what encryption is and how to use. It’s the stuff that got Black Berrys’ banned in the Middle East. It’s the same stuff that M$ brags about in old M$ Win XP posts, and the same stuff that lets me by a book through Amazon.

It’s not just at the Telegraph, and that scares the hell out of me. I am putting Ms. Clare Foges in my Asshat column.

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