NY DA Cy Vance Asks Law Enforcement About Problems With Encryption; Won't Take 'No Problems' For An Answer

from the click-'submit'-to-confirm-bias dept

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance must be exhausted. Vance has been the New York face of the anti-encryption push — a state-level James Comey with the NYPD as his backing band. He’s held histrionic press conferences and issued editorials via The Paper of Record. He’s also leveraging the web to muster his anti-encryption forces. As Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai reports for Motherboard, he’s asking law enforcement officers to show him on the webform where the encrypted phone abused the investigation.

[T]he Manhattan District Attorney’s office quietly put out a questionnaire last fall using the online platform Survey Monkey. The survey was made with the goal of compiling “statistics on the national scope of the problem,” according to a district attorney’s spokesperson, who explained that it was created for the International Association of Chief of Police conference in Chicago.

The survey didn’t get much attention, but it was spotted and tweeted out by Declan McCullagh, a former CNET reporter who now works on a news app called Recent News.

The survey contains a variety of questions that would receive interjections of “objection: leading” from opposing counsel. The SurveyMonkey form (which you can fill out for fun and noise here) assumes every responding law enforcement official/officer will have been stymied by an encrypted phone at some point. Answering “no” to a question like “Have you encountered a smartphone, or other device, that you have been unable to get into because of encryption?” doesn’t end that particular line of questioning. Instead, the respondent is forced to answer an unskippable follow-up question, as pointed out by Franceschi-Bicchierai.

The spokesperson for Cy Vance’s office declined to state whether the results of the survey would be made public or how the office “independently verifies” the law enforcement status of respondents. But Joan Vollero did object to Motherboard portraying the survey’s release as “quiet,” stating that it “posted publicly” on the office’s website. It was apparently released in conjunction with Cy Vance’s “white paper” on encryption, the one where he stated he wasn’t calling for a ban on encryption before calling on lawmakers to prevent the sale and use of encrypted phones, possibly with some sort of a ban. However, this white paper + survey was not accompanied by a press release, so its release was stealthier than most.

Because respondents aren’t given the option to talk about their lack of problems with encrypted phones, Vance will be able to compile plenty of data that agrees with his conclusions. The data may never be made public in raw form, but it will certainly be used at some point to support his arguments during future press conferences and Congressional testimony.

Filed Under: , , , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “NY DA Cy Vance Asks Law Enforcement About Problems With Encryption; Won't Take 'No Problems' For An Answer”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
That One Guy (profile) says:

Only acceptable answers allowed

That answering ‘No’ to #4 didn’t skip #5, and the wording on #5 itself(‘In what types of cases has…’) makes it abundantly clear that there was only one answer that they were looking for, and they had no interest in anything but it.

This ‘survey’ wasn’t about seeing whether or not encryption had presented a problem to police, it started with the assumption that it had, and went from there.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Money! It is cheaper to buy power for ten computers than having an infiltration expert. Since money makes the world go around it is not yet a definite loss of ability, as much as a saving exercise. That encryption and rerouting are partial showstoppers, doesn’t mean that you cannot save money. It just doesn’t give the quality of information they are used to, which makes for more potential targets and less prioritized surveillance targets.

As long as the government wants “better” ability to catch bad guys, it is much more legit to ask for more data than to improve existing methods since improving existing methods would imply that previously they weren’t perfect, which usually backfires onto the responsible politicians.

Anonymous Coward says:

In what types of cases has your investigation/prosecution been impeded by Apple’s encryption practices?

This is one of those ‘Google IS the internet’ kinds of perceptions, isn’t it. Very well. My perception is that having a stick shoved up up your butt decreases one’s technological kung-fu to the level of “someday I WILL master this broom”. On the other hand, the stick does give one excellent posture at the dinner table, which is probably a greater benefit to a New York DA than any actual knowledge.

Anonymous Coward says:

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen surveys not well written or thought out. Many online surveys do require an answer of some kind to continue. It’s always amusing to be presented with a question that doesn’t have a form of “NA” for an answer when the question doesn’t apply to you. I have encountered “What stage is your cancer? 1,2,3, or 4; my answer should be NA as I don’t have cancer but that’s not a choice. I’ve encountered a question asking what pet(s) I have in my house; I have no pets but that’s not a choice in the answer selections. “How many fatal heart attacks have you had?” Say what???

Even NOT asking certain questions can skew an outcome. Several years ago I received a customer satisfaction survey from one retailer. After filling it out I realized there was one glaring omission: this retailer asked zero questions about the interaction between customer and employee. I’ve received similar surveys from other retailers and all of them had questions about customer/employee interaction but this one didn’t. The reality was (and still is) that for this particular retailer customer/employee interaction is minimal or lacking. The logical conclusion is that this retailer knows they’re weak in this area and doesn’t want to hear about it.

Anonymous Coward says:

... but in the expanded survey

4. Have you encountered a smartphone, or other device, that you have been unable to get into because of encryption?
> Yes

5. In what types of cases has your investigation been impeded by Apple’s encryption practices? Please select…
> Other

5a. Other: Please explain…
> On no investigation involving Android devices has Apple provided the least bit of assistance in decryption.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...