Manhattan District Attorney Still Totally Ignorant About Encryption, Slams Tim Cook & Demands Legislation To Wipe Out Encryption
from the not-a-good-idea,-cyrus dept
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance really doesn’t like encryption — and really doesn’t seem even remotely interested in the fact that he doesn’t appear to understand even the basics of what he’s talking about. Vance started whining about mobile phone encryption in January of this year, falsely claiming it meant these phones were “sealed off from law enforcement.” Of course, that ignores the fact that only some information is encrypted, and plenty of other stuff is readily available. Over the summer, Vance kept up the campaign, with a ridiculous nearly fact free op-ed in the NY Times in which he blamed an unsolved murder in Evanston Illinois (note: ~800 miles from Manhattan) on encryption. As we noted at the time, the facts didn’t match the reality. The phone in that case (from Samsung) didn’t come with default local encryption turned on, and it’s not at all clear the phone even had that much value in the investigation (and, remember, communications metadata was still readily available).
Vance then really went for the big score last month in releasing a white paper calling for a legislative ban on encryption. Of course, knowing how ridiculous that sounds, he tries to claim that he’s not actually asking for a legislative ban… while actually asking for a legislative ban. But it’s totally a ban. The specifics of his legislative proposal is that “designers and makers of operating systems not design or build them to be impregnable to lawful governmental searches.”
This, of course, would do next to nothing in helping Vance, as those who wished to encrypt the contents of their phones could still install third party applications to do so. Furthermore, those who wished to communicate via encrypted end-to-end communications platforms could still do that as well. Oh, and also, in demanding that everyone design devices that have weak security, Vance would be intentionally putting most people at a higher degree of risk… all to solve a single unsolved murder in Evanston, which probably wouldn’t have been solved even if that phone hadn’t been encrypted.
Either way, Vance just doesn’t want to let go. And with Tim Cook going on 60 Minutes and repeating his pretty straightforward (and knowledgeable) defense of encryption, Vance can’t let the opportunity pass, without again attacking Apple and demanding legislation to make everyone less safe.
?Local law enforcement agencies rely on photos, videos, and messages stored on lawfully seized smartphones to hold perpetrators accountable, deliver justice for victims, and exonerate the innocent. Apple implemented full-disk encryption so that it could no longer comply with the judicial search warrants that make this work possible.
?iPhones are now the first consumer products in American history that are beyond the reach of lawful warrants. The result is crimes go unsolved and victims are left beyond the protection of law.?
?Because Apple is unwilling to help solve this problem, the time for a national, legislative solution is now.?
Once again, almost none of that is true. Apple didn’t implement that for the purpose of not complying with warrants, but to protect its customers from harm. You would think that someone who works in law enforcement would appreciate such preventative measures. As for relying on photos, videos and messages — those are rarely stored exclusively on the device (hence the local encryption doesn’t matter for law enforcement) and rarely the key issue in a case. If they were, Vance wouldn’t have to point to a case nearly half the country away as his prime example.
Second, the idea that “iPhone are… beyond the reach of lawful warrants” is also total bullshit. This is just a small sliver of information on some iPhones if used in a specific way that are beyond the scope of a warrant. But there has always been information that is beyond the scope of a warrant — such as the information in someone’s brain.
You’d almost think that Vance is trying to purposely mislead people into thinking that they can plan crimes on their iPhones and the information won’t be accessible. Gee, I wonder why he’d want to do that…
Finally, the idea that crimes are going unsolved because of this again remains to be proven, because almost every example given so far has been debunked, and they frequently look like law enforcement types blaming encryption for other failures.
Vance, like Senator Tom Cotton, really really dislike encryption and their statements against Tim Cook demonstrate a willingness to either expose their own ignorance publicly, or a willingness to flat out lie to the American public to serve their own political needs. Neither is a particularly good look for a government official.