James Comey, Dianne Feinstein Team Up To Mislead About Encryption; Promise Legislation To Undermine National Security

from the ugh dept

This is hardly a surprise, but after Congress had more or less realized that passing a law to undermine encryption wasn’t a good idea, the clueless surveillance state hawks have used the Paris and San Bernardino attacks as a chance to go for it again. In a hearing this morning, FBI Director James Comey — who has long been leading the charge — explained that he thought tech companies ought to change their business model to drop end-to-end encryption. Ridiculously, he argued that there’s no “technical issue” in undermining encryption, just a business decision:

Now, Comey said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday morning, extensive conversations with tech companies have persuaded him that ?it?s not a technical issue.?

?It is a business model question,? he said. ?The question we have to ask is: Should they change their business model??

Comey is being misleading to disingenuous here. Yes, anyone can undermine encryption. And, yes, I guess you could argue that undermining encryption and weakening security for all your users is a “business model” issue in that they won’t trust you any more and might look for alternative providers. But that’s not the real issue. Comey’s trying to shift the debate, because he knows that what he’s really asked for is impossible. He’s asked for backdoors that only law enforcement can use. And basically every computer security expert has explained that the only way to do that would be to expose everyone to more threats. And Comey seems to think that’s okay.

Let me repeat that. The head of the FBI, who is supposed to be protecting American citizens, thinks it’s okay to make everyone less safe, based on the unproven theory that it’ll make his own job a little easier.

And, not surprisingly, Senator Dianne Feinstein, was right there ready to assist. She cited the Paris attacks as evidence for why “the world is really changing”

?I suspect what happened was in the aftermath of Snowden, particularly Europe got very conservative with respect to encryption. The companies back away. Now, that?s changing with Paris and God forbid what might happen in the future. So what I?m trying to say is, I think this world is really changing in terms of people wanting the protection and wanting law enforcement, if there is conspiracy going on over the Internet, that that encryption ought to be able to be pierced.?

Again, this is the same Senator who just a month ago was practically screaming about how important cybersecurity is, and now she says that the single biggest factor in protecting information online — encryption — should be done away with.

And, indeed, while others have held back, Feinstein has said she’s working with Senator Burr on legislation to effectively break encryption:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that she would seek a bill that would give police armed with a warrant based on probable cause the ability ?to look into an encrypted Web.”

“I have concern about a PlayStation that my grandchildren might use,” she said, “and a predator getting on the other end, and talking to them, and it’s all encrypted. I think there really is reason to have the ability, with a court order, to be able to get into that.”

A spokesman for Feinstein’s office told the Daily Dot in an email that the senator has been working with Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) the issue of encryption and that Burr’s office is taking the lead on potential legislation.

None of that makes any sense. First of all, the Playstation is not encrypted end-to-end, and if she’s concerned about who her grandchildren are talking to on the Playstation maybe she should look into that, rather than having the government undermine the very foundations of basic computer security on the internet?

Hopefully cooler heads prevail in Congress, but we’ve seen Feinstein and Burr team up to do tremendous damage through fearmongering before, and apparently it’s not going to stop any time soon.

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Comments on “James Comey, Dianne Feinstein Team Up To Mislead About Encryption; Promise Legislation To Undermine National Security”

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Anonymous Coward says:

One of the most misleading statements is when he talks about companies who hold the encryption keys as having products that are secure. Something to the effect of “a year ago these products were considered secure”. That’s just false. End user held keys are a vastly more secure product to offer. Comey is implying that this is a business model decision rather than a technical one.

The reality is that companies are now offering a better product and Comey thinks the government should compel them to offer a retrograde product that is uncompetitive with the rest of the world.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: How...

Feinstein used to be my senator. I even voted for her the first time she ran. She’s got a safe seat because Orange country republics insist the Republican nominee make Rush Limbaugh look like a socialist.

Based on watching her over the years, and especially her votes and public statements related to encryption and civil liberties. There is no reason to believe she is the puppet of anyone. To me, it looks like she really hates the idea of civil liberties and any sort of freedom of expression or association.

So before you accuse her of being a puppet, I suggest you dig deeper. I really think she is a willing participant.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: How...

Fifteen years ago, she was on my list of congressional dirtbags for being an obsequious lickspittle of the entertainment industry. I don’t think she’s immune from wearing strings, even if she’s more comfortable with left-leaning ones.

Now I think she’s just old and afraid and she either thinks she can legislate her fear away. She doesn’t seem addled or dim, nor does she seem malicious or evil; she’s just simply not up to the task of dealing rationally with security.

It’s interesting that she’s worried about her grandchildren gaming online, but she doesn’t seem to put any responsibility on her own children to properly supervise them. I guess she would know best what kind of parenting skills she passed along, but it seems like an abuse of power for her to ask us to pay with our security for her inability to raise responsible children.

JonC (profile) says:

Our leaders want the experts from the technology community to come together and devise a way to allow law enforcement access to encrypted communications when they have a warrant because terrorism (never mind that it is impossible to do that).

I have a better idea: I want the experts from our intelligence community to come together and devise a way to find and combat terrorism that doesn’t undermine our security in a big way (or any way).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

… to further the goals of the FBI.

Dude, stop and re-examine your assumptions.

Now, if you want to say that the FBI has an institutional goal to increase financial fraud, then that’s pretty fucked-up.

If you want to say that the FBI has a goal to permit foreign powers to eavesdrop on our nation’s communications, then that’s totally beyond fucked-up.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

… and that mandate has to be realized inside the funding they get.

Or both their mandate and their funding has to be turned over to another agency, which has the institutional capability to comprehend objective reality.

If Comey and his FBI can’t do the math… well, we desperately need an agency that understands current technology and hard constraints.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

You’re overthinking it.

In the minds of Comey and others who are trying to cripple security(FBI/NSA/police and so on), their ability to spy on people as much as possible is directly linked to the ‘safety’ of the public.

Doesn’t matter that it’s not true, doesn’t matter in fact that by weakening security they’re putting the public in even more danger than it faced before, the only thought in their minds is ‘Less security -> More ability to spy -> more security’, and they’re stuck in such a loop that they never even bother to question whether that makes sense.

Of course the above is a rather generous assumption towards their motivations, a more cynical(and at this point I’d say more likely) possibility is that they aren’t even thinking of the public, all they care about is what affects their job, and if removing obstacles to said job involves undermining public security and rights, then that’s a price they’re willing to pay.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Doesn’t matter that it’s not true…

Here, you’re back to arguing that Mr Comey is simply ignorant.

Remember though, the first proposition in the comment to which I was replying went:

… I don’t think Comey is ignorant. It’s his job to know how these things work…

“[T]hey’re stuck in such a loop.”

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Oh not at all, that was the benefit of the doubt interpretation(which he’s not worthy of) with regards to those in general pushing for crippling encryption.

When it comes to Comey however I have little doubt he falls under the second category I listed, where he doesn’t care about the public, as he’s only focusing on what makes his job easier, no matter what that might mean for the public.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

I’d go with ego, and the cliche that “it’s not the having, it’s the getting”. An awful lot of people in positions of governmental power don’t seem to be very good at their jobs, and there’s a reason: they aren’t trying to prove that they know what they’re doing. All they want to do is prove to themselves that they can convince others that they do know what they’re doing.

Once they achieve that goal? They flail about like a lemur on acid trying to play the bassoon… while stranded in a dark internet parking lot full of slavering metaphors. Or something.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

but I don’t think Comey is ignorant.

He is a lawyer, so he should understand the law and the constitution, but I doubt that he understands technology. As a lawyer he is trained to twist words to suite his desired outcome, so he thinks that what other people say is only to support their position, rather than being an absolute truth.

Joe Publius says:

“A spokesman for Feinstein’s office told the Daily Dot in an email that the senator has been working with Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) the issue of encryption and that Burr’s office is taking the lead on potential legislation.”

Expanding tyranny against American citizens is, was, and always will be the one thing Republicans and Democrats can agree on.

Personanongrata says:

(P)ersons (I)n (G)overnment (S)ervice

James Comey, Dianne Feinstein Team Up To Mislead About Encryption; Promise Legislation To Undermine National Security

Two peas in a non-productive pod (aka persons in government service P.I.G.S.) espousing pure unadulterated balderdash Feinstein and Comey.

It is wholly unsurprising that persons such as Comey and Feinstein (etal) having been ensconced within comfy confines of the US government for their entire adult lives while feeding at the public trough are espousing the specious non-solution of weakening electronic communication encryption standards so the US government, in a completely totalitarian manner may surveil American citizens in order to keep them safe from the terrorists they (US government) have created at taxpayer expense. Talk about a self-licking ice cream cones.



Can Feinstein and Comey (etal) articulate even one instance of the use of encrypted terrorist communications that lead to an attack?

Can Feinstein and Comey (etal) articulate how weakening encryption standards would benefit US citizens?

Will Feinstein and Comey (etal) ever leave government and find productive work in the public sector? Are they competent enough to do so?

The constant parroting (by Feinstein, Comey, etal)of weakening encryption standards exposes these defective group thinkers for what they are:

Defenders of the status quo at all costs.

Defective group think is more dangerous to American citizens than any possible terror attack as the criminally insane cabal operating the levers of power in DC has the power to destroy the world multiple times over.

These defective group thinkers are directly responsible for officially sanctioned kidnapping, detention without charges, torture, elective wars based wholly upon lies, the theft of trillions of dollars and lowered standards of living for American citizens. These people (Feinstein and Comey etal) if they held a position in the private sector would have been fired long ago for gross incompetence. Unfortunately when P.I.G.S. fail in US government service they are advanced into positions of even greater power and less accountability. In short Comey and Feinstein (etal) are failures writ large and every word that escapes their duplicitous lips should be questioned as the US government and it’s P.I.G.S. have zero credibility.

Do the nation a great service, Feinstein and Comey (etal):


Anonymous Coward says:

And basically every computer security expert has explained that the only way to do that would be to expose everyone to more threats. And Comey seems to think that’s okay.

Let me repeat that. The head of the FBI, who is supposed to be protecting American citizens, thinks it’s okay to make everyone less safe, based on the unproven theory that it’ll make his own job a little easier.

This is the same FBI that tells local cops to let criminals go rather than admit to anyone that they have a Stingray. Safeguarding the public doesn’t even make the top ten of their “To Do” list.

MarcAnthony (profile) says:

Asinine PlayStation hypothetical argument against encryption

If the receiving party is in communication with someone via their PlayStation, then they obviously have both a copy of the message and the ability to read it. That person can assist in the investigation by turning over the console to the authorities. Someone on Slashdot pointed out that Feinstein’s granddaughter is 26. If she still needs legal protection from pedophiles, perhaps she should look into using the built-in parental controls.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I was thinking along the same lines. We should require everyone trying to enter the country to fill out and sign a form:

I ___am/___am not a terrorist.

I ___am/___am not a bad person.

Then we pass a law with all sort of penalties for lying on the form. Then we refuse to allow anyone into the country that checks the am box to either of those questions.

That should work about as well as trying to keep out terrorist by asking if they are muslim.

Anonymous Coward says:

He’s right: it’s a businessmodel. And if Comey c.s. tinker with it, this businessmodel will crumble because US tech companies will have no way of telling their customers if they provide a safe/secure service.
US Intelligence happy, but no tech industry left anymore to provide them with backdoors (left for EU or elsewhere).

Techno says:

We are fortunate

We’re kind of fortunate that this sort of discussion is going on now. Any government plan to get access to encrypted data pretty much requires that encryption keys be escrowed somewhere. Ten years ago, if the government had claimed that the companies that provide the encryption service or the government itself could keep that data safe, we might have believed them. Now, though, with a new data breach seemingly every day, and with the huge OPM loss of data this past summer, we know that this is a ridiculous claim. The keys may be safe today, but someday, someone will get to them.

Monday (profile) says:

While we're on the subject of Hypotheticals...

I would expect nothing less from Senator Feinstein, FBI Director James Comey, and Intelligence Committee boss Senator Richard Burr, and the endless parade of fear mongering in order to get their really, really bad ideas pushed through.

I feel, nay, suspect that if things such as revisions to gun laws, more gun control, better access and total access to better health care – particularly Mental Health, people would feel so much safer, because things that can be accomplished, at home, are being accomplished at home. This constant typhoon of misinformation, disingenuous representation from all these temporary employees, especially in the wake of the Paris and San Bernardino attacks, really is the big problem. So much more needs to be done in regards to educating the masses on issues such as mental health – see ThriveNYC; enlighten the masses on just what your computer, smart phone, tablet is doing when it comes to encryption.

Senator Feinstein, FBI Director James Comey, and Intelligence Committee boss Senator Richard Burr are in absolutely no way, by any measure, fixing anything they lend their limited intelligence to, and the shout-over-the-other-guys voice opinion.

Safety starts at home, but it can’t be found in the language our smart devices use, it starts at an even better, more simple approach… it starts in your communities, the schools, with the Families, and, especially, most intrinsically, in the home, and by home I mean to include from the borders in as well…

The three aforementioned individuals are only exacerbating the inner struggles a great deal of the citizens are having; inciting noneducational rhetoric, and adding to the 9/11, Post-Snowden, hind-sighted Paris attack(s) are the targets – cut off the head, the body dies POV, when in fact the whole Encryption argument is really paper cuts on the body.

The arguments are going to be made after the fact, they will be useless, incontinent babbling, maligned, and always, always unconstitutional.

Why can’t Bill Gates just sit down with these types, and explain encryption, lay-it-out for them that the Golden Key does not exist, and even if it did, there is no way that this Golden Key will do anything except harm, and increase, National Security.

Oh yeah, I just have to say something about that PlayStation remark. Is she actually in need of that mental health check I mentioned? Is she high? Maybe someone should look at her eMails, because that’s a pretty fucked hypothetical. Just how do you get from an useless Business Model to Predators???

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