Michael Bloomberg Comes Down On The Wrong Side Of The Crypto Wars: Supports Backdooring Encryption

from the you're-wrong dept

This is perhaps not surprising, but still disappointing. Former NYC mayor and current billionaire media/tech company boss Michael Bloomberg has come down on the wrong side of the “going dark” encryption fight. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed (possible paywall link) he scolds tech execs for daring to side with Apple over the FBI and the Justice Department on the question of backdooring encryption. Bloomberg does not appear to actually understand the issues at play.

The fireworks and parades this weekend will give Americans a chance to celebrate the nation?s independence from England and show their love of country. But true patriotism involves more than flying the flag?and more than paying taxes and casting ballots. It requires putting America?s needs above individual interests when national security and public safety are at stake.

Generations of Americans have honored that principle, risking their lives to preserve a nation ?conceived in Liberty,? as Lincoln remarked in his Gettysburg Address, ?and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.? Today, 1.3 million men and women serve in the military on active duty, often in dangerous situations overseas. Yet here at home, some executives in an industry that thrives on freedom?technology?are resisting government efforts to safeguard it. They are dangerously wrong.

Note the false framing here. Bloomberg is setting up the argument that backdooring encryption for the sake of the FBI/DOJ is “good for national security and public safety.” He’s wrong. It’s not. It’s not even close. It actually puts many more people at risk, because the only way to backdoor encryption effectively is to break that encryption and put everyone who uses it at much more risk. Yes, it means that the FBI/NSA won’t be able to track some people, but it’s a very small number of people, and they have other ways to track them without undermining the security of everyone else.

The freedom that Americans enjoy requires shared sacrifices, and not only by soldiers. ?We the people? impose limits on our personal liberty to protect ourselves and those around us. We are free to speak our minds, but we cannot yell ?Fire!? in a crowded theater. We are free to travel without restriction, but driving a vehicle requires a license, and boarding a plane requires official identification. We are free to smoke tobacco, but today in most states we cannot do so indoors.

This is also dangerously wrong. We’ve discussed this many times before, but the lame “we cannot yell fire in a crowded theater” line is simply incorrect. It’s based on an ignorance of the actual law in that space (the court case where this statement was made is no longer the accepted standard under the law). It’s also just a weak excuse for someone who is about to strip away other rights. It’s basically a warning sign of someone who doesn’t have a strong argument for why they want to strip away rights, so they’ll make a misleading and incorrect statement claiming that you can’t yell fire in a crowded theater (even though, in most cases, you actually can).

We also limit our right to privacy. The Fourth Amendment protects against ?unreasonable searches and seizures,? but it also explicitly authorizes warrants based on probable cause. Every day, judges approve warrants authorizing searches of homes, cars and computers. Even our bodies can be subject to search warrants, as drunken-driving suspects learn when they attempt to refuse a blood test. Those suspected of other crimes may have their calls tapped and mail opened?all with the safeguard of an independent judiciary certifying the public need, to protect both our liberty and safety.

This is an especially intellectually dishonest move. He goes from “fire in a theater” to arguing that we already “limit our right to privacy” because judges issue warrants. But this is different. The 4th Amendment directly includes the warrant exception, unlike the First Amendment which includes no exception. And, really, many people question a lot of things that Bloomberg finds acceptable violations of privacy. That’s not a huge surprise though. After all, as mayor, Bloomberg was a major supporter of the unconstitutional stop and frisk program that the police used under his watch… until a court threw it out. Of course, he also was against any transparency of his own administration or of the NYPD.

When Apple refused to unlock a cellphone used by one of the San Bernardino terrorists (and owned by his public employer), many in the tech industry came to the company?s defense. They argued, in effect, that they shouldn?t be forced to cooperate with a search warrant for one of their products, even though failure to comply could put more innocent lives at risk. Thankfully, the government was able to unlock the phone on its own. But next time, the public may not be so lucky. Imagine if the government is in possession of a cellphone that it has reason to believe contains information about an imminent hijacking?or an effort to detonate a dirty bomb. Should we allow the manufacturer to refuse a court order to unlock it?

This, again, totally misrepresents the situation. The issue was not the court order to unlock, but the fact that based on the encryption used on the phone, the only way to “unlock” it was to create a revamped operating system that undermined a number of key security features — which would likely create much more risks for everyone. This was not a question of just turning a key as Bloomberg implies. The issue was not whether the government could just force a company to “unlock” an encrypted phone, but rather whether or not it could force them to build technology that deliberately undermines security.

And, really, this stupid game of “but what about the next time…” is ridiculous. THERE IS ALWAYS SECRET INFO THAT LAW ENFORCEMENT DOESN’T KNOW ABOUT. And it’s not the end of the world. There is information in people’s heads. There is information that they already destroyed. And somehow, law enforcement survives. The fact that some information may get scrambled by encryption is like that other kind of info. It’s not the end of the world. In fact, we deliberately designed our legal system with the recognition that law enforcement does not have an automatic right to every bit of information.

Of course not. We are a nation of laws, and no industry is above them. The Constitution doesn?t carve out an exception for tech companies.

This is the most frustrating line in the article, because it’s complete bullshit. No one is arguing they’re above the law. Exactly the opposite. They’re questioning whether or not having a valid warrant would then require tech companies to construct a new tool to deliberately undermine security. Being “above the law” is doing things like deliberately hiding documents and emails from the public despite being legally required to reveal them. Being above the law is doing things like refusing to accept a decision of the City Council against your unconstitutional policies. Those were things that Mayor Bloomberg did. What the tech companies are doing is not above the law at all.

Yet Apple responded to the investigation with a troubling announcement: In the future, phones will be designed to prevent even Apple from opening them, just as the makers of some messaging services have already done. Such a move would be an unprecedented rejection of public authority and a potentially catastrophic blow to public safety. The prospect of criminals and terrorists communicating with phones beyond the reach of government search warrants should send a shiver down the spine of every citizen.

This is again a misrepresentation of reality. Apple had already said that the phones would be designed that way well before this investigation. And the reason they did so was not to “reject public authority,” but rather because it’s a better way to protect public safety. Don’t ask me, ask the NYPD who used to go around telling people to encrypt their phones to make them less appealing to thieves, who steal thousands upon thousands of those devices all the time, often seeking to get the info that’s on the devices.

Google, Facebook, Snapchat and WhatsApp are all working to increase encryption in ways that will make it impossible for the courts and law-enforcement officials to obtain their users? data. They argue that if they are forced to comply with government requests for data, terrorists will simply choose open-source encryption apps instead. But lone wolves are not always that sophisticated. Those that are may have no regard for investigations following their death. And for those that do want to cover their tracks: Why should we help them?

Again, the efforts they’re making are not to keep law enforcement out, they’re to keep criminals out. It’s about protecting the public. And, as for “lone wolves” not always being “that sophisticated,” that’s exactly why this shouldn’t be a huge concern. Because as we’ve noted time and time again, unless you’re really good, you’re probably going to make a mistake when you try to encrypt stuff, and you’ll leak out plenty of info for law enforcement. So if they’re really not that sophisticated, none of this is actually a problem.

It?s true that encryption may make it harder for repressive regimes to crack down on dissent, but it also makes it harder for democratic societies to protect themselves against terrorists and criminals. We can work to undermine repressive regimes in ways that do not compromise our own safety, and we should expect tech leaders to help lead the way.

Again, this is misrepresenting why encryption is so important. It DOES NOT make it harder for democratic societies to protect themselves against terrorists or criminals. It does the exact opposite, by providing the tools for people to better protect themselves against both of those things.

It?s worth remembering that the U.S. taxpayers, beginning under President Eisenhower, funded the R&D that led to the development of the internet and other technological advances without which these companies would not exist. And while many of them claim to be concerned about their customers? privacy, let?s also remember that many turn around and sell their customers? personal information to advertisers. If anyone thinks they are more concerned about privacy than profits, I have a bridge to sell you.

Again, this is not the actual argument. Bloomberg is throwing out so many strawmen, you’d think that they were on clearance. The fact that the government helped fund the development of some of these technologies is kind of irrelevant. It also helped fund plenty of research into encryption as well. So what? That doesn’t mean we should undermine it all and make us all less safe. And, the whole “but companies sell your info to advertisers” point is a complete red herring. Having stronger encryption actually gives individuals more ability to take control over their own info and prevent that kind of thing. Sure, companies are mostly interested in their own profits, as, I assume, is Bloomberg’s own company. But that’s why they’re building better encryption as well. Because they know that making their customers safer and keeping them from having devices stolen or hacked creates a better product.

When America entered World War I, Thomas Edison devoted most of his time to naval research. His work led to various military inventions and improvements, including instruments to detect torpedoes. It is perhaps too idealistic to expect Silicon Valley?s best minds to give up their jobs to serve the government in the fight against terrorism. But a little cooperation shouldn?t be too much to ask.

Lots of people in Silicon Valley are proactively helping in the fight against terrorism. It’s complete bullshit to argue that because we think that working encryption is necessary, people are refusing to help the government. The whole point is that breaking encryption doesn’t help stop terrorism. It doesn’t help stop crime. It puts us all at more risk.

It’s too bad Bloomberg doesn’t have anyone working for him who could have explained this to him before he sounded off so ignorantly in the WSJ. But, really, if Bloomberg thinks that tech companies need to build compromised, backdoored encryption, here’s a solution: he can put some of his billions towards building just such a product, and see what the market thinks of it. If he’s right and this is what the public needs to be safe, won’t he be making tons of profits? After all, where else is he getting that bridge he wants to sell us…

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Comments on “Michael Bloomberg Comes Down On The Wrong Side Of The Crypto Wars: Supports Backdooring Encryption”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Not even wrong

‘It requires putting America’s needs above individual interests when national security and public safety are at stake.’

You mean like putting america’s needs regarding secure encryption and security above the individual interests of those that want to undermine that encryption and security just to make their jobs easier?

The freedom that Americans enjoy requires shared sacrifices, and not only by soldiers.

Here’s an idea, how about the voyeurs ‘sacrifice’ the idea that they get to know everything they want to, that they deserve to know everything and compel it’s production. How’s that for ‘shared sacrifices’?

Bloomberg is welcome to set up his life so it’s completely free of privacy any time someone with a badge comes knocking(not that he ever would…), but he’s most certainly not welcome to sacrifice the privacy, safety and security of everyone else just so he can feel ‘safer’ knowing that privacy is a thing of the past.

Those suspected of other crimes may have their calls tapped and mail opened—all with the safeguard of an independent judiciary certifying the public need, to protect both our liberty and safety.

In addition to what’s said in the article, this bit deserve extra attention and mockery given how many of those in the government and police are apparently of the opinion that they do not in fact need any oversight or an ‘independent judiciary certifying the public need’ in the form of a warrant to do whatever they want.

But a little cooperation shouldn’t be too much to ask.

The rest of it is absurd, but this takes that to new heights for anyone familiar with what’s actually been going on. The ‘cooperation’ that’s been asked of the tech companies has basically been ‘Make your products less secure and your customers less safe so our jobs are easier’. That’s not working with the government, it’s working for them, and to the detriment of both the companies and their customers.

That type of ‘cooperation’ very much is ‘too much to ask’.

Jason says:

Re: Re:

Whether it’s gratuitous or not, I actually found that link more helpful in clearly seeing the issue than the Popehat article linked above. I’ve read that article more than once and I’m still not sure I really get the specific points he’s trying to make. That list, glib though it may be, made things a lot clearer. So, thank you!

Pixelation says:

Hey Bloomberg

“But lone wolves are not always that sophisticated. Those that are may have no regard for investigations following their death. And for those that do want to cover their tracks: Why should we help them?”

We’re not helping them you Cheeto-faced, shit gibbon. We’re preserving our freedom. The Feds can’t stop terrorists with unencrypted messaging why give them unfettered access to more. It will only add to the noise for them and open the rest of us up to attack by those who compromise the “secure” back-doors the government wants to force in.

When your encryption is compromised and your fortune stolen, will you sing the same tune? Me thinks not.

DigDuggery says:

Anyone working to violate the Constitution is a Traitor

That includes the President, Vice President, Cabinet, Congress, FBI, CIA, NSA, TSA, insert any other government alphabet organizaion here.

Traitors one and all, as well as actors of treason against the people of this country.

I figure someday, someone will begin the resistance, after all, there are hundreds of millions of us, and only a few thousand of them. How long can they hold out when the Military cannot accept any orders that violate the constitution and are trained to discern legal from illegal orders.

bshock says:

Is this a surprise to anyone?

A quick look at Google shows that Michael J. Bloomberg has a net worth listed at $40.9 billion. That places him not just squarely in the Oligarch tier of American society, but very near the top of this tier.

Granted, “Oligarch” is a label, not any sort of accepted title. But when you reach the level of obscene wealth where you can call yourself a multi-billionaire, you qualify as an Oligarch whether or not anyone uses the term. It’s important to note this because these are the people who control this country. They buy the legislators and legislation they want. They decide who the presidential candidates are going to be by funding who they want. They own the media that push their opinions and assure us loudly and incessantly that what the Oligarch wants is absolutely right. These are the people that own the corporations you work for.

American Oligarchs may not own us as individuals, but they come as close to it as any group since medieval gentry owned the serfs who worked their lands. And frankly, when the Oligarchs themselves bother to think about the lower classes, they think of them as serfs at best.

On average, Bloomberg and his ilk think of us as cattle. To them we’re cattle to milk, to herd, and (when convenient to their international adventures) to slaughter. As such, if you’re an Oligarch, you want your public cattle to be as docile and defenseless as possible. They must present no challenge to the Oligarch’s authority and, above all, they must present no threat to the Oligarch or his other property.

And that’s what so much of this nonsense is about. Won’t backdoors in encryption sabotage the technology industry? Sure, but that’s a minor sacrifice for a loose syndicate of Oligarchs maintaining control over a potentially unruly mob. It’s very much the same principle with the encroachment of government surveillance and erosion of public privacy — the Oligarchs need for the hired hands and hired eyes in their government to keep close watch over you, just in case you might pose a threat to their happy status quo. If that bothers you, they assure you that this is all for your safety, protecting you from the flashy but statistically insignificant “terrorist” boogiemen.

Meanwhile, the Oligarchs play perverse games amongst themselves, unconcerned when some of their gambits devastate the economy or kill millions. Who cares if cattle suffer?

Makoto (profile) says:

A simpler version

Since the far-reaching consequences of weakening security seem to be slightly out of Mr. Bloomberg’s grasp, let me offer this simpler version.

Suppose that you buy something from Amazon, and because the encryption used has been intentionally weakened to help fight terrorism, someone other than you and Amazon’s payment processor now know your full credit card number…

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: A simpler version

I think the problem is people aren’t getting the logic behind the notion that any backdoor open enough to let the good guys in can also let the bad guys in.

Even the compromise of a hack being expensive is insufficient because a) some bad actors, such as rival nations can afford to pay for expensive and b) behind every expensive hack is a clever, cheap hack waiting to be discovered.

This whole notion of going dark implies that law enforcement hackers are lazy, or law enforcement hackers are stupid. Most locked-phone cases are opened by exploiting human error (typically choosing a non-unique password), or are not really contingent on the locked phone. Even TPMs are crackable, just expensive.

It’s not that our insect overlords want to solve the rare extravagant data-contingent case that is secured by unbreakable crypto. No, what they want is for the ordinary highway patrolman able to open up someone’s phone to fish for a convenient felony by which to book any civilian he doesn’t like. (e.g. Muslims, blacks, gays, disrespectful women)

Makoto (profile) says:

Re: Re: A simpler version

You may have missed my point; it’s very apparent as to what the intention is, but the consequences are either an afterthought or ill-understood.

If one can follow the trail of irrational logic from, “Terrorists use encryption”, to “Terrorists use the Internet”, to “Terrorists shop at Amazon”, then it becomes apparent that the next move is to pressure Amazon, eBay and any number of online vendors to use this weakened encryption to help fight terrorism, or risk some form of retribution from the US government.

In that event, online vendors becomes extremely vulnerable and the nation is no safer from terrorism, but a noticeable uptick in credit card related fraud suddenly appears.

My example was intended more for the less tech savvy person who does use online services like Amazon, but believes that somehow backdoored encryption wouldn’t be susceptible to an attack, or doesn’t quite realize the magnitude of the aftermath.

ECA (profile) says:

“if Bloomberg thinks that tech companies need to build compromised, backdoored encryption, here’s a solution: he can put some of his billions towards building just such a product, and see what the market thinks of it. If he’s right and this is what the public needs to be safe, won’t he be making tons of profits”

Citizens Need protection…
Gov dont want us to have any because they are trying to protect themselves..
Anyone request information from the gov?? and get Blanked out pages??

IF a company THOUGHT this was a good idea…They would be all over the place..Anyone want a SWITCHER>>.
IF the Gov. thinks this is a Good idea…LET them install them..AND QUIT screaming when CHINA raids their servers..

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