Manhattan DA Continues To Claim 'We Don't Want Crypto Backdoors…' By Which He Means He Wants Crypto Backdoors

from the same-old-song dept

Ever since last year, Manhattan DA Cy Vance has been singing the same old tune: demanding backdoors to encryption while insisting that he’s not demanding backdoors. The only way this makes sense is that he doesn’t seem to have the slightest clue about what he’s talking about. Either that or he’s willfully misrepresenting things. Neither is a good look.

He’s back at it again, speaking at a cyber security conference and repeating his ridiculously clueless mantra:

Vance, speaking at the International Conference on Cyber Security here, said that law enforcement officials did not need an encryption “backdoor,” sidestepping a concern of computer-security experts and device makers alike.

Instead, Vance said, he only wanted the encryption standards rolled back to the point where the companies themselves can decrypt devices, but police cannot. This situation existed until September 2014, when Apple pushed out iOS 8, which Apple itself cannot decrypt.

Right. You see, that “point” where companies themselves can decrypt? THAT’S A BACKDOOR. And it makes everyone less safe from malicious hackers and criminals. And that’s why companies are moving to real encryption — because they want to keep the public safer. You’d think that someone like the Manhattan District Attorney would be in support of a plan that keeps the public much safer. But Vance just doesn’t get it.

“Tim Cook was absolutely right when he told his shareholders that the iPhone changed the world,” Vance said. “It’s changed my world. It’s letting criminals conduct their business with the knowledge we can’t listen to them.”

First of all, criminals have always had ways to conduct business with the knowledge that law enforcement can’t listen to them. It’s called meeting in person with people. Or using code words and phrases. Encryption doesn’t change that. And, of course, using encryption properly isn’t easy, and it still leaves plenty of other clues. Law enforcement is never supposed to be able to get absolutely everything already. And these days, there’s so much more data available to law enforcement than ever before — things like location data from mobile phones, or information from other connected devices. The idea that his job has become more difficult is complete hogwash.

Vance’s speech seems to be a repeat of what he’s said before, but it’s been debunked before and he just keeps making it. It’s difficult to take him seriously when he keeps being so ridiculously wrong.

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Comments on “Manhattan DA Continues To Claim 'We Don't Want Crypto Backdoors…' By Which He Means He Wants Crypto Backdoors”

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35 Comments
DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Same argument, different level of tech

A better analogy is that the company who made your locks is still able to open it.

Apple is like a lock company that has made a lock that they, themselves, cannot open.

What the police state wants is to go back to the time when the lock company, or a locksmith, could open your lock and sneak in, rummage around, plant evidence, and then leave without a trace.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Who speaks for the trees?

One of the arguments you’re expressing that our DoJ and police officials like to ignore is that we cannot trust the DoJ. Their conduct throughout recent history has indicated they are disinterested in actual justice and more interested in securing convictions regardless of actual guilt.

They also like to rob civilians in the guise of asset forfeiture.

And that said, the people need an advocate in this conversation that is not related to the justice system, because no-one in the justice system can be relied upon to defend the rights of the people.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Small but important distinction

And that said, the people need an advocate in this conversation that is not related to the justice system, because no-one in the justice system can be relied upon to defend the rights of the people.

The US, among several other countries, does not have a justice system, it has a legal system. May seem nitpicky, and perhaps it is, but the difference is significant.

The first is first and foremost focused on seeing justice done(‘It’s better that nine guilty men walk free than one innocent is unjustly punished’ as the saying goes), whereas the second is more interested in seeing the laws upheld, even if the very concept of ‘justice’ is ground into the dirt, and innocent and guilty alike are punished in the process.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Yes, but my point remains the same.

Still, our legal system, in its pursuit of upholding the law, cannot be trusted to do so fairly, not merely because our body of laws are (as Madison predicted) to many for a person to remember them, and too confounding for a person to understand them (without the assistance of legal council), but because prosecutors, law enforcement and jurists are all willing to cheat in order to secure convictions even of innocent civilians.

Therefore, it is in the interest of the people to reduce the capabilities of the department of justice in the detection and enforcement of law. Not expand them.

And that is to say that when we do anything to further empower law enforcement (say to backdoor or hobble common encryption) that is policy contrary to the benefit of the people.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Yes, but my point remains the same.

Oh I’m not disagreeing with your underlying argument, my issue is with the bit of terminology used. Much like evidence laundering is given the ‘harmless’ sounding name of ‘parallel reconstruction’, torture is given the much less horrific name of ‘enhanced interrogation’, calling the legal system a ‘justice’ system makes it out to be something it’s not and can potentially give people the wrong impression.

‘Enhanced interrogation’ is torture.
‘Parallel reconstruction’ is evidence laundering.
And the ‘justice system’ is the legal system.

Using and expounding upon the absolutely brilliant logic employed by the illustrious US Supreme Court, if it looks like a duck and acts like a duck, it should be called a duck, and it would be wrong to call it a dog.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 This reminds me of the Wannsee conference

at least as chronicled in the HBO movie Conspiracy, in which they started by Heydrich saying containment and emigration of the Jews isn’t working fast enough so we’re transitioning to a policy of evacuation.

And for the next while asked (and no-one answered) what was meant by evacuation, it took about half of the (90-minute) meeting for Heydrich and company to admit the reality of the matter, that by evacuation he meant a systematic massacre of the Jewish people.

When we find ourselves hesitating to discuss policy openly and bravely, it’s probably a good sign that we should change policy.

MDT (profile) says:

Better physical world analogy

We are not saying that every safe should have a second door on it. We are only asking for every safe manufactured to have a fixed combination that is given to the police for use when we need it. We will absolutely guard this police combination that opens all safes, and we will not allow criminals to have it. We will make it illegal for anyone other than police to use it, which will make it secure and safe and ensure no one but the ‘good guys’ can use that bypass combination code.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Better physical world analogy

–We will make it illegal for anyone other than police to use it, which will make it secure and safe and ensure no one but the ‘good guys’ can use that bypass combination code.

Holy crap, I just had an epiphany!

You mean if we make murder illegal we can stop murders?
I’m calling my senator right away!

I’m gonna ask him to make being poor illegal too!
Just think of all the problems we can solve with laws!

Manhattan DA Sir Valance says:

Locksmiths are perfect saints who never commit crimes!

If only Apple approved locksmiths can unlock your iphone you have nothing to fear!

Locksmiths have always been 100% honest and have never ever, not even once, used their skills in the commission of a crime!

Why are you afraid of these perfectly honest and noble locksmiths, you got something to hide?

Anonymous Coward says:

It would appear that the esteemed Mr. Vance either skipped all of his Math classes or he got a free ride because of who his father was.

Why is it that people love to opine on subjects where they have no background whatsoever on the topic at hand? Generally speaking, political appointees seem to be very good at this. I give you Mr. Lance as proof positive.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Castes of the US

Much like Soviet Communism (which just never really got to where they could dismantle the hierarchy, which was the objective, if a tad problematic) the US started without classes, on the notion that every man would depend on his own merits. (In this case, merits include assets such as wealth, capital and friends in high places as well as endurance, skill, intelligence and so on.)

What we discovered is that castes will form from those merits, specifically affluence, career powers, leverage and so on.

We forgot that in Feudal Europe, a horse made the knight, and before that big aggressive guys lorded over (or marauded) small more docile guys.

It’s the assets that create the castes, not the other way around.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Castes of the US

Correct on all points. However, Soviet Communism failed because Marx didn’t get human nature. When sticking to the prescribed ideological practices caused problems for them, the Soviets introduced state capitalism, in which the new bosses were like the old ones except that they called everyone “comrade.” The Russian oligarchs of today are the factory bosses of yesterday. They seized the companies and their assets and made a flippin’ fortune.

This just goes to show that even the commies had to admit that we actually need capitalism. The minute they began to do that they lost the argument. Marxists have been quibbling over the details ever since.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Government oversteps its bounds with mass surveillance.
Public responds with more robust encryption.

Government upset that there is more encryption and asks for backdoors.
Public responds by demanding backdoor free encryption.

Government outraged, demands action!
Public says F- You!

The government is doing an outstanding job at encouraging the use of strong encryption.

Anonymous Coward says:

“It’s called meeting in person with people.”

As opposed to meeting in person with teapots?

Either “in person” or “with people” is superfluous, unless you only want to cover the case of meeting in person and being accompanied by other people.

“Or using code words and phrases. Encryption doesn’t change that.”

Code words/phrases and encryption are not mutually exclusive. It would be logical for anyone who suspects that encryption might be backdoored or somhow insecure would encrypt messages constructed of coded words and phrases. What does Mr FancyPants BigLawyer MegaBrain Vance propose to do when confronted with such a message? Hmm?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

What does Mr FancyPants BigLawyer MegaBrain Vance propose to do when confronted with such a message? Hmm?

Clearly once he manages to sabotage effective encryption the next step is to make it illegal to speak in code of any sort, requiring people to communicate exactly what they mean.

Sell drugs and refer to them as ‘cookies’ in a text message? Drug charge and obstructing justice charge.

Cops want to read a message just because but can’t because it’s in a language they don’t know and/or code? Off to jail with you until you translate/decode, and then back to jail for obstruction charges.

Commit a crime and meet in person beforehand to plan it out? Charged for the crime itself, charged for having the gall to communicate in a manner not available for the police to listen in.

(Really, this putz just makes it far too easy and entertaining to mock him.)

Anonymous Coward says:

This is delightfully clueless:
“And that’s why companies are moving to real encryption — because they want to keep the public safer.”

Uh, no, they care about their profits and they don’t like the government making a bunch of requests of them that will get revealed to the public later, which makes the company look bad and makes people buy less of their product. The public wants real encryption and (tries to) punishes companies that pretend to be on your side but are giving your information to the government. That’s what they are trying to avoid.

It’s a bit rich to ascribe altrustic motives to these huge companies who only started backpedalling when they got found out (or in Whats App’s case, were foreign and were responding to their users who don’t want the US Government seeing all their communications, then later got merged into Facebook).

Joel says:

What he proposes is not a back door

A backdoor in cryptology is a secondary way to decrypt data without holding the private key.

What he proposes is that we go back to the model where the companies also hold the private keys and hand them over when ordered to.

That’s not really a backdoor, but the security implications are of just about the same gravity.

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