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.

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Comments on “Manhattan District Attorney Still Totally Ignorant About Encryption, Slams Tim Cook & Demands Legislation To Wipe Out Encryption”

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David says:

Re: Re:

That’s not a criterion. Law enforcement can also lock people away, something that is not allowed to ordinary citizens. He is arguing for authorized access to devices he doesn’t own.

However, the current Stingray disaster makes clear that Law Enforcement is wiping their ass with the Constitution and is shitting on the warrant and due process requirement, being perfectly content with unauthorized access. So it is pretty clear that the only feasible way to pull Law Enforcement back into heeding the Constitution is to render their illegal toys non-operative.

Which is what encryption is about. He doesn’t like it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

…Cyrus Vance…This name totally screams “villain”…

I’m old enough to remember the presidency of Jimmy Carter and he had a Secretary of State named Cyrus Vance. I keep thinking this was the same person so googled and found out that Jimmy Carter’s Cyrus Vance has passed away. While not villainous the only bright spot of that presidency in foreign policy was the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel; the rest was a disaster.

Anonymous Coward says:


Poor, poor Cyrus Vance.

He just doesn’t understand that law enforcement is hard, and sometimes, just sometimes, you’re expected to have to WORK to solve a crime without having every single piece of information since the dawn of time at your disposal to solve it.

Sorry Cyrus. Work is hard. Someone should’ve told you that.

PaulT (profile) says:

“Apple implemented full-disk encryption so that it could no longer comply with the judicial search warrants that make this work possible. “

No, it implemented encryption largely due to customer demand as a result of news about extrajudicial activities by law enforcement.

Is it that these politicians are actually this stupid on this or that they think their constituents are?

Anonymous Coward says:

“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.

What did they do before the invention of still and movie cameras, and phones?

When they had to rely on a whistle to summon aid, they made sure that they knew and got on with the locals in the areas that they policed, and this meant that they got good intelligence on criminal as well.

Anonymous Coward says:

these guys aren’t stupid. as mentioned in the article, its good to try and understand why someone in his position would make this argument. he probably knows that a law banning encryption will not get passed. but this argument is in his favor if it can convince criminals that using an iPhone to plan and communicate with regard to a crime is safe way to not get caught.

his career is not in preventing crime so his interests are in how to prove guilt after the fact. by making criminals feel safer makes his job easier.

its quite smart, maybe i’m giving him too much credit.

Blaine (profile) says:

Set an example

These people pushing to ban encryption should set a good example and stop using this evil technology. No encrypted files on their phones, computers or portable drives. No HTTPS for any web sites.

In fact as a trial run how about all tech companies just force HTTP on any connection from a gov owned ip?

This would have a couple benefits.

First, of course, they can show us how a good citizen behaves and that it’s completely safe.

Second, FOIA requests would go down, since we could just go get whatever we want.

Win Win

dr evil says:

where to start

he should lead by example… no NYC gubmint employees (including the police) may have anything encrypted. Then make the phone numbers and server addresses public. No passwords, as this could be taken as a form of encryption because it limits access.

don’t expect too many bright people coming out of NY, after all, they voted in Hillary because she was ‘one of them’ right after moving there. (similar to carpetbagger…)

Anonymous Coward says:

LEOs complain only because they are ignorant

I just got a new phone and first thing I did was enable encryption. When starting or rebooting the phone you have to enter in the encryption key for it to boot up. But once booted all the data is decrypted, the only thing that is securing it is the lock screen.

By default after 15 failed attempts trying to get past the lock screen the phone does a factory reset. Seems like awesome protection should my phone be stolen or lost. Prevents average criminals from stealing my identity and such. Not sure why LEO would advocate against such crime preventing technology.

Its not really that big of a hurdle for law enforcement if they use their brains:

1. Planning to arrest someone who has a phone? Arrest them when they are using it and make sure you keep the phone from locking. You now have access to all the decrypted data.

2. Already arrested someone and their phone is locked? Leave the phone with them in the interview room, take it from them when they unlock it to post their jail selfie on Facebook. Enjoy your now decrypted data.

One could think of a thousand other ways like faking a text message from their close buddy “Yo Dawg, how much is yo bail?” and take the unlocked phone from them when they respond.

If LEO is incapable of using social engineering to get the information they need then they should retire and let a real detective take their place.

Median Wilfred says:

Cyrus Vance and Tom Cotton walk into a bar...

It suddenly hits me what the REAL issue is. I’ve long wondered about the conservative dislike of certain corporations and universities, and I’d tentatively chalked it up to some corporations and universities openly go further in various equalities than the US government demands. Domestic partnerships, civil partnerships, gay partnerships, and gender equalities were all recognized by some large corporations and universities some years ago, well before the US government demanded it. That is, the conservative dislike of some universities and corporations has to do with prejudice against gays and lesbians.

Cyrus Vance and Tom Cotton are peeved about encryption because they see the public face of encryption as Tim Cook, an openly gay CEO of a major corporation. Encryption is gay, and therefore to be avoided, not unlike particle physics in the late 30s and early 40s was a “Jewish science”.

Anonymous Coward says:

” Because Apple is unwilling to help solve this problem, the time for a national, legislative solution is now.”

Actually Mr. Vance, given that you and the increasing list of elected officials are not listening to these companies such as Apple in the reality of encryption (and in fact waging a coordinated PR campaign against it), it would appear the only time for a national solution is for the public to unilaterally demand all of your resignations (to include those running for president).

At a minimum, you and those against encryption should lead by example and demonstrate to the public how one is to live with your solutions to encryption in our current society.

David (profile) says:

The downside

The downside, as always is that their pulpit is bigger than yours. The folks who would only hear their side, because it is in mainstream media, but not yours, because they don’t do their own research.

Reminds me of the end of the movie American President (paraphrased)…

…We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you [INSERT POLITICIAN HERE] is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things, and two things only: making you afraid of it, and telling you who’s to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections…

Anonymous Coward says:

By all means, read Cyrus Vance Jr’s “white paper” on the topic. It gets really interesting toward the end…

“A copy of our proposed legislation is enclosed herewith. Google supported an earlier, almost identical, version of this proposed legislation, and I presume Google would support this as well.”

Seek and ye shall find… as such, FUCK GOOGLE.

Rekrul says:

Re: Quantum computing makes encryption irrelevant?

I would think it would simply maintain the status quo. The limiting factor to encryption is processor speed. The larger the key, the longer the processor takes to encrypt data using it. Instead of 128-bit encryption, we could be using 128K or even 128MB encryption, but you wouldn’t be able to do it in real time. You’d take a picture and the device would print;

Encrypting: 1%, ETA: 5 minutes.

While quantum computers should allow the cracking of current encryption much faster, encryption on a quantum computer should allow much larger keys to be used, negating the speed advantage for cracking.

In other words, encryption on a quantum computer could be complex enough that even another quantum computer would still take a very long time to crack it.

Rekrul says:

lawfully seized…

judicial search warrants…

lawful warrants…

Where was all this concern for “lawfully” seizing devices and using “lawful” warrants when police were regularly searching through people’s phones? Or when the intelligence agencies were conducting mass surveillance? Or when the TSA was insisting it had the authority to seize and search any electronic device carried by a traveler?

Maybe if the police and other agencies had actually been following the law, companies wouldn’t be rushing to encrypt everything now.

Web_Rat (profile) says:

Another day, another lamebrain proposes legislation!

Every week another story about how law enforcement is so behind the eight ball and at a severe disadvantage in crime solving because of encryption. No matter how many times security experts reiterate the fact there is no golden key, politicians think the solution is just more legislation to fix the problem.

If it really is that simple, why not pass a law that proclaims that all politicians have the ability to understand the complex issues regarding computer security and encryption and makes them all defacto experts!

Oh wait, you just can’t fix stupid………

Theo Chino (user link) says:

In the 50, there was a project called LOMEX in Manhattan ...

In the 50’s there was a project called Lower Manhattan Expressway led by Robert Moses where he wanted to build a highway.

I have publicly challenged Mr. Vance to get his technologist to build the OS he want us to use it and we’ll show him how it is broken.

Need a Twitter Tag, please submit a tag to get it trended.

Also looking for volunteers to build a nice website to get the message across and educate the citizenry.

Theo Chino

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