A Month Ago, Dianne Feinstein Said Cybersecurity Was Super Important… Now She Says We Should Undermine Encryption

from the which-side-is-she-on? dept

Look, everyone has known for quite some time that Senator Dianne Feinstein’s big push for so-called “cybersecurity” legislation in the form of CISA had absolutely nothing to do with cybersecurity. It was always about giving another surveillance tool to her friends at the NSA. However, given that she was one of the most vocal in selling it as a “cybersecurity” bill (despite the fact that no cybersecurity experts actually thought the bill would help) it seems worth comparing her statements from just a month ago, with her new attacks on actual cybersecurity in the form of encryption.

Here is Feinstein just a month ago, claiming to worry about “cyberattacks” on Americans:

“Millions of personal records and hundreds of billions of dollars fall victim to cyber-attacks every year, and we?ve done little to stem the tide.”

Of course, CISA does nothing to protect any of that. You know what does protect against that — better use of encryption to keep that information from getting hacked in any useful manner.

Okay, fast forward. Following the Paris attacks, Feinstein has been among the most vocal in claiming that we need to undermine encryption, which is pretty amazing given that she represents California (and is from San Francisco), home to tons of tech companies that actually get this and think she’s completely crazy for undermining actual cybersecurity.

Never mind that, though. Here she is this past weekend, on CBS’s Face the Nation totally attacking encryption itself and mocking the tech companies that just a month ago she was insisting needed special government help to protect against cyberattacks. She was asked if the intelligence community has the tools it needs, and she decides to attack encryption — even choosing to cite as a source CIA director John Brennan — the same John Brennan who illegally spied on her staffers and then lied about it repeatedly.

“I can say this. [FBI] Director [James Comey] and, I think John Brennan, would agree, that the Achilles Heel in the internet is encryption. Because there are now… it’s a black web! And there’s no way of piercing it. And this is even in commercial products! PlayStation, John! Which our kids use. If the two ends communicate, that’s encrypted. So terrorists can use PlayStation to be able to communication and there’s nothing that can be done about it.”

The host, John Dickerson, then points out that the tech industry (again, mostly based in or near Feinstein’s hometown, and that she’s supposed to be representing) says that backdooring encryption makes us less safe and opens us up to more attack, and Feinstein brushes it off, relying on her apparent years of computer security training…

No. I don’t think so. I think with a court order, with good justification, all of that can be prevented. It can be prevented in Europe, because Europe has been a major driver for more encryption. And I think that they are now seeing the results. I have visited with all of the General Counsels of the tech companies, just to try to get them to take bomb building recipes off the internet. Recipes that have been tested and we know can explode a plane. Directions. Where to sit on the plane to blow it up. We know that there are bombs that can go through magnetometers. And to put that information out on the internet, is terrible. And I sorta got ‘well, pass a law.’ So, we may just have to do that. But I am hopeful that the companies, most of whom are my constituents — not most, but many — will understand what we’re facing. And we’re not crying wolf. There’s good reason for this. And people are dying all over the world. And I think the Sinai-Russian airliner is a classic example of a bomb that got on a plane, that blew up that plane.

Where to start with this nonsense? First, note that she doesn’t actually respond to the question concerning how undermining encryption will make us all less safe and make all that information Feinstein herself claimed was under attack just a month ago more vulnerable, other than to say that she, personally, doesn’t think that what every computer security expert has been saying is true. Yikes.

Second, rather than focus on encryption, she pivots to her other pet projects, claiming that the government should force internet companies to censor The Anarchist’s Cookbook. She keeps on this despite the fact that all the way back in 1997, the DOJ directly told Feinstein that this would violate the First Amendment. From the DOJ to Feinstein:

The First Amendment would impose substantial constraints on any attempt to proscribe indiscriminately the dissemination of bombmaking information. The government generally may not, except in rare circumstances, punish persons either for advocating lawless action or for disseminating truthful information — including information that would be dangerous if used — that such persons have obtained lawfully.

Third, this weird infatuation with The Anarchist’s Cookbook, despite the fact that it’s generally recognized as a joke for fools, where the likelihood of being able to build an actual bomb from it are minimal at best. And, while she pretends that the GCs of tech companies just sort of shrugged their shoulders about this, it’s much more likely that it’s because they thought she was being ridiculous trying to censor the internet in violation of the First Amendment. Whoever told her “well, pass a law” was almost certainly trying to get rid of her, knowing that any such law would be unconstitutional.

Fourth, this tangent about “bomb making instructions” online still has absolutely nothing to do with encryption or the question about how encryption makes us all much more vulnerable to attack and actually makes us all less safe.

Fifth, the comment about Europe is insane. Again, while the attackers may have used some encryption, it’s been revealed (since long before Feinstein did this interview) that they did an awful lot of communicating in the clear, including unencrypted SMS and Facebook messenger. On top of that, what the hell does “Europe has been a major driver for more encryption” even mean? Perhaps it’s true that they’ve been adopting more encryption to hide from the NSA’s spying that Feinstein herself helped hide from everyone.

Sixth: the whole PlayStation thing has been debunked as a way that the Paris attackers communicated. They did not. Furthermore, she’s just wrong that the PlayStation has end-to-end encryption. It does not.

Seventh, does she honestly believe that whoever blew up that Russian airplane downloaded bomb-making instructions from the internet? Also, if it were really so easy to get such instructions and get them through security, don’t you think we’d have seen a lot more airplanes blown up by now?

In summary, Feinstein (a month ago) said we should all be deathly afraid of cyberattacks, and the only way to solve it was to give the government much greater access to companies’ computer systems, via CISA. And, now, she insists that encryption is an “Achilles’s heel” and that actual cybersecurity experts are lying when they say undermining encryption will put everyone at risk. Why? Because The Anarchist’s Cookbook is online and Google won’t take it down.

Is it really so much to ask for politicians to actually understand technology before they go off on ridiculous, ignorant, uninformed rants about it — often leading to even more ridiculous and dangerous legislation?

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Comments on “A Month Ago, Dianne Feinstein Said Cybersecurity Was Super Important… Now She Says We Should Undermine Encryption”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Sometime's it IS malice

Is it really so much to ask for politicians to actually understand technology before they go off on ridiculous, ignorant, uninformed rants about it — often leading to even more ridiculous and dangerous legislation?

You mistake ‘malice’ for ignorance. She knows exactly what she’s saying here, and while she’s dishonest when she talks, she is consistent. She was for CISA because it would expand the ability of the various government agencies to spy. She’s against encryption and security for the same reason in reverse, because it makes it more difficult for government agencies to engage in mass, indiscriminate spying on the public.

She’s not an idiot, she’s just a liar.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Sometime's it IS malice

Exactly someone in her position has a very specific agenda and while she may be too incompetent to form the greater agenda herself, she is most definitely working for it.

The end goal was never was about the cookbook or bomb making instructions, it is about power. Power to cover up past wrong doings. Power to keep the real agenda moving forward. Power over people financially. Power over their minds and hearts through propaganda. The cookbook and things like it are the distraction being marketed to the people to blind them. while the real plan moves forward.

I don’t know what the true agenda is or who originally formed it but it is easy to see the puppets like Feinstein who are being used to push that agenda forward.

mcinsand (profile) says:

OMG! The Sky Really is/has Fallen!


Feinstein is totally right, and that is not the worst of it. There are communications… communications that take place millions of times every day… and with no means to electronically monitor the contents. Some people send messages written on paper through the mail AND OUR INTELLIGENCE FORCES HAVE NO WAY TO KNOW THE MESSAGE WITHOUT A WARRANT! If that doesn’t send you into a pants-wetting conniption fit, then you are obviously in league with the terrorists.


Instead of weakening encryption, we need to get serious about security. Those that do not encrypt messages are putting information out there that could be of potential use to terrorists, criminals, Congress, etc. Available data is a weakness, and we need to protect ourselves by minimizing just how much is available for mining by those that would do us harm.

Anonymous Coward says:

Assorted memes

> So terrorists can use PlayStation to be able to communication and there’s nothing that can be done about it.

* So children can use PlayStation to be able to communicate and there’s nothing that can be done about it.

* So terrorists can use coffee shops to be able to communicate and there’s nothing that can be done about it.

Take your pick.

Shadow Dragon (profile) says:

Re: A question to Feinstein:

I wonder how feels about encryption when Chinese and/or Russian hackers hack the CIA etc.She can’t have it both ways.
But remember some politicians still think technology would stay the same during what time they felt comfortable.They lose their minds over this because can’t cope with the ever-changing technology.That’s why they push for all these laws to impede technological advances.When technological advances will not stop for anyone.They could try but it’s never gonna happen.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: A question to Feinstein:

She basically thinks “the NSA can stop the cyberattacks” (which of course in the OPM case, they didn’t) and that encryption is not necessary.

IMO, I don’t think it really matters what she “thinks” because she doesn’t understand any of this. She’s just saying what her NSA friends are telling her to say. If it wouldn’t be Feinstein, it would be some other puppet.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

While we’re at it, let’s mandate that every home owner must leave a house key under their front doormat. Criminals have been known to lock their doors and police are put in real danger busting them down not knowing what’s waiting for them on the other side.

But don’t worry; mandating house keys hidden under everyone’s doormats won’t be any more a security risk than a back-door password in every device. Only the police will know that the key or password is there.

David says:

You don't understand democracy.

Is it really so much to ask for politicians to actually understand technology before they go off on ridiculous, ignorant, uninformed rants about it — often leading to even more ridiculous and dangerous legislation?

On any given topic, there are more people who are not specialists in it than those who are. Democracy, however, requires majorities. So it is more important to appeal to the people who don’t understand an issue than to appeal to those who do understand it.

Understanding technology before going off on ridiculous, ignorant, uninformed rants about it will greatly reduce the appeal to the bulk of your audience since you are then talking in terms and details they don’t understand. And it will likely still not suffice to win those over who actually are knowledgable in some area since you cannot match their knowledge.

So it is a dangerous distraction for a politician to know what he is talking about.

In order to offset the rule of incompetency, the EU has added the European Council, staffed by industry experts. It turns out that the trust placed in their expertise leads to the rule of corruption instead.

So this is no real offset to the rule of incompetency. Basically you cannot avoid democracy, but you can hope to make it better by offering good and free education to everybody so that the decisionmakers, the populace, cannot be bullshitted as easily as Feinstein manages.

Anonymous Coward says:

These fucking senators, and congressman, get up there and speak about shit they dont understand. The problem with this country is not terrorism, or hackers, or criminals, its fucking congress. I cant think of one good fucking thing they have done in 20 years. Then this dumb bitch ignores the experts in the field be cause she feels like they are wrong.

How the fuck do we get such stupidity running our country

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Have you looked at the crew currently running for POTUS?

That’s the top government job.

Is it any wonder then that the lower government jobs are held by morons, idiots and the massively stupid.

Somebody should implement some sort of public vote system that can weed out the jerks…. oh yeah, that’s right, we already have a government-run version of that kind of system… never mind.


Anonymous Coward says:

All this BS after it has been shown these terrorists did not use encryption but rather communicated by text over SMS. This is merely another attempt to pass blocking or weakening encryption but has not real purpose in actually finding terrorists.

Nor was Snowden needed to tell terrorists their communications were monitored. Long before Snowden came on the scene, terrorists had already figured out they were being tracked through their cell phones for targeting purposes with drones. So they put these chips in a paper bag, mixed them all up along with relative’s chips and passed them out. This resulted in a funeral being targeted as well as a wedding before they figured out they weren’t hitting their targets but rather innocents with a different chip in their phones.

Electronic communications are easily bypassed. Don’t believe that? Look how long it took to find Osama bin Laden, who was aware that communications were being monitored. Despite sending runners to various places across his country to send out terrorist warnings, they were not able to pin point his location. He used messengers and USB thumb drives. A total lack of encryption could still not reveal his location.

Personanongrata says:

Something in the Water?

A Month Ago, Dianne Feinstein Said Cybersecurity Was Super Important… Now She Says We Should Undermine Encryption

Dianne Feinstein espouses whatever is expedient at the moment.

It is abundantly clear Dianne Feinstein is a duplicitous turd.

Why do voters in California continue to re-elect this fraction of an American?

JBDragon (profile) says:

What I don’t get is why this old, corrupt HAG keeps getting elected!!! I’ve not voted for her once. This is the main problem we have in Government. These people stay in Office forever getting rich leaching on the public. Of course they’ll never vote to give themselves term limits. Would never make it in the real world under all the laws they create that kill jobs. Sky needs to be booted from office, but I’m afraid she’ll be there until the day she dies.

Anonymous Coward says:


How is it that Dianne Feinstein – the senator that supposedly represents so much of the tech industry – one of its biggest enemies? I don’t understand.

Feinstein is threatening the existence of an industry valued at over $1,200,000,000 to feed her claims that sound like they’re from a paranoid schizophrenic.

WHY? Why is Silicon Valley powerless to do something about one of its own Senators? God damnit, someone tell me! Why the hell should I place more of my trust in an industry that seems wholly incapable of defending itself from almost any interest group?

I’m tired of my trust being so routinely broken and being unable to plan for the future of a future in tech. It’ll be more healthy for me to abandon this industry altogether.

Justme says:

Wait. . .

The U.S. Department of State reports that only 17 U.S. citizens were killed as a result of terrorism in 2011.
The FBI’s website states that over 100 people were killed or injured in bank robberies nationwide in 2011.

So then. . .
Wouldn’t you have a stronger argument for back dooring encryption based on cell phone use for the planning of bank robberies then for terrorism?

Just guessing, 95+ percent of bank robberies involve the use of an automobile, so doesn’t it pose an imminent threat to American lives to allow communication conducted in an automobile to be dark to law enforcement?

Considering that our government has increasingly tried to keep us in the dark, it interesting how afraid they are of being left in the dark!

GEMont (profile) says:

Its Cocaine and Bimbo time for the Yacht Clubbers again..

A Month Ago, Dianne Feinstein Said Cybersecurity Was Super Important… Now She Says We Should Undermine Encryption

Well yeah, its Christmas Bonus Graft Time and she wants to get hers, just like all the rest of the wall street employees wandering the halls of government.

So its time to toe the line and play ball, if she wants to get that $100,000 bonus the CIAF BIN SADOJ sends out each year at this time for non-naughty team players.

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