FBI Official Compares Encryption Guru Moxie Marlinspike To The KKK, Refuses To Discuss Him

from the well,-that's-one-plan dept

By now, hopefully, you already know about Moxie Marlinspike, the security researcher/encryption guru/creator of the important open source encrypted messaging protocol Signal. However, it’s still worth reading Andy Greenberg’s big profile on Moxie over at Wired (and, no, he still will not reveal his original name or much more about his history). The whole thing is a good read, but there’s one crazy part, where Greenberg asks an FBI official for their thoughts on the guy who is making encryption that he deliberately says he hopes will be used to keep the FBI from spying on certain conversations. The FBI, not surprisingly, is not a fan. But, still, it seems like quite a leap to then make an analogy with the KKK:

A spokesman for the FBI, when asked to comment on Marlinspike?s law-breaking philosophy, replied, ?The First Amendment protects people who hold whatever view they want. Some people are members of the KKK. I?m not going to engage in a debate with him.?

This is insane on multiple levels. First off, what a weird thing to pull out. Here’s someone building tools to help keep the public private and secure. Why would the KKK be the FBI’s immediate go to in terms of talking about him? Second, what does any of this have to do with the First Amendment? I guess they’re saying that Moxie is free to support the idea that it’s good that people can break some laws. But, still, saying the FBI “won’t engage in a debate” with Moxie is again missing the point.

I get that many in the law enforcement realm believe (incorrectly) that strong encryption makes us less safe. And, so I can understand that those misguided folks might not like Moxie at all. But it seems like a pretty big leap to go from that to bringing up the KKK.

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Comments on “FBI Official Compares Encryption Guru Moxie Marlinspike To The KKK, Refuses To Discuss Him”

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55 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Say it again with me: "Self-inflicted wound"

As always it’s worth pointing out that the increased push for widespread encryption likely wouldn’t have happened, or at the least wouldn’t have happened so soon or with nearly as much energy behind it if the government had shown even the slightest bit of restraint.

They didn’t.

So enamored with the idea of ‘Grab it all’ they have only themselves to blame that the public doesn’t trust them to respect public privacy and security, and as a result feels the need to make and use encryption intended to stop cold both those with and without badges.

When you act no different from the ‘bad guys’ then you are the bad guys, which means you don’t get to expect to be taken seriously when you whine about how people adopt protection measures that impact you and the ones you claim are the real ‘bad guys’.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Say it again with me: "Self-inflicted wound"

And of course from the computer’s perspective, there’s no difference between good guys and bad guys. Which is the point, really: encryption either keeps everybody out, or it doesn’t keep anybody out. There’s no such thing as a security hole that can only be exploited by a good guy.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

But you are all Good People ™, so you should have nothing to hide… unless you are enemies of the state.

Anyone working to ensure privacy is an enemy of the state, and we must discredit them with any tools we have. We aren’t smart enough to figure out his real name and history, so we went with the KKK to create an associate in the minds of Good People ™ to turn against him.

We can not allow Good People ™ to actually have the rights we let them think the law provides for them.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: The Red Scare

The reds were considered a threat by President Wilson and regarded as such by every president thereafter. The KKK was never addressed by a president, except sometimes to suggest their motives were aligned.

So yes, the KKK was never regarded as an enemy of the state whereas ideological communists were, even those not directly aligned with the Soviet Union.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: The Red Scare

Here’s the fun part: right-wing reactionaries can be found in every department of security and law enforcement. Wired had some interesting stories about them pushing propaganda on the FBI and in the military. Remember this?

https://www.wired.com/2012/05/total-war-islam/

and this?

https://www.wired.com/2011/09/fbi-muslims-radical/

Anonymous Coward says:

The number of people who are bedsheet-wearing KKK members is extremely tiny, and of those, the number that are not FBI plants is much smaller still.

The FBI would like nothing better than to see Moxie Marlinspike join the KKK, where they could keep close watch on him, but fear that his history of wearing his hair in Afro-Jamaican dreadlocks might work against him.

FamilyManFirst (profile) says:

The link is clear

The link is perfectly clear, Mike. The KKK are “bad guys.” The First Amendment permits them to say whatever they want to say, but they’re still “bad guys.” Lawbreakers are also “bad guys” – at least, according to the FBI – as are those who help them, like Moxie. The First Amendment allows them to say whatever they want to say, but they’re still “bad guys.”

Remember, a person is never a villain in his own eyes. An FBI spokesman is likely to have a rather black-and-white view of the world, with the FBI white and the FBI’s suspects black. To him/her, Moxie is self-evidently wrong-headed, like a KKK member, and no reasonable person should agree with him. Engaging in a debate with him would only elevate his ideas to the public, as if they had some possible validity. Therefore, they won’t.

Mind you, I certainly don’t *agree* with this spokesman. He or she clearly has no perception or conception that the FBI might ever abuse their power, nor that there may be times when breaking the law might be a good thing (Rosa Parks comes instantly to mind). However, I can certainly *understand* why they would make such an (outrageous) statement.

SomeOneTakeCharge says:

Who's running the show?

If you read Pen tagon info, they express concerns that the private sector and citizens don’t use encryption, yet listen to the justice folks and they can’t stand it.

Who’s running the show?
The folks that truly understand the implications of security or the folks that won’t ask for the funding to increase numbers of agents to do work the old fashioned way… instead of making ease their main work.

No disrespect to the DOJ or FBI, really no disrespect intended. I can empathize with how difficult and stressful their jobs are with so many points of interest they have to work.

My suggestion is that they get more funding for agents, not for more legal experts.

This country has a justice problem. We’ve had multiple Attorney Generals and their legal teams misreading, misinterpreting legislation and there’s really no other way to say it, but undermining our constitution, bill of rights and plain common sense. It’s beyond the pale.

I’ll side with the Pentagon on this topic.

Encryption sounds pretty smart considering the level of malware out there and malicious access to private and public systems we rely on. Heck my info has been stolen from systems our of my control that if they used were half as good as the military would seek, maybe I wouldn’t be getting so many phishing attempts on my home phone.

Zen (profile) says:

FBI Oath ...

FBI Oath …

“I [name] do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

aidian says:

Funny how the FBI insists on encrypted radio comms...

The FBI is upgrading its entire field radio comms infrastructure. It’s a $200 million contract and two of the key features of the bid specs are that the radios must:

-meet the P25 standard, which allows for digital encryption using keys similar to SSL

-All equipment must have the capability to interact with Motorola’s proprietary encryption product, when a government and industry group agreed on a standard, more sophisticated encryption system.

Meeting the proprietary Motorola interface means that the contract becomes essentially a sole-source Motorola deal, which has led to protests from other vendors and delays in the contract award.

But note that the FBI has zero interest in having its communications unencrypted.

David says:

Nothing off here.

Here’s someone building tools to help keep the public private and secure. Why would the KKK be the FBI’s immediate go to in terms of talking about him?

I consider it likely that when the KKK erects a gallows in the backwoods they consider it a tool to help keep the public private and secure, while probably offending the FBI less than someone providing encryption tools.

Whatever says:

Over Reaction Much?

Holy crap, talk about over reaction. Not the government guy, but you Mike.

His point is clear: He thinks that, like the KKK, this guys views are extremist and perhaps even illegal, but fall just inside the lines of free speech. He doesn’t equate him to being racist or anything, just that he is “out there”.

He could have said “Westboro Basptist Church” or “Fox News” or “Rick Falkvinge” and it would have meant the same thing.

Seriously, lighten up! Stop trying to find a second gunman behind every grassy knoll, it really takes away from the quality of the site.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Over Reaction Much?

If he said it in that way, it was an insult. Saying someone has extremist views or that they are like the KKK are considerable different. They may both have extremist views but I don’t see how you can say both have the same views.
The other is you say to lighten up. This was done by a person in a position of power. Not some random guy in a bar. He has an agenda and that is to smear Moxie’s name since that is the only way they can currently go after this person.

Pete Austin says:

The spokesperson's point is about secrecy

Both are known for taking secrecy *extremely* seriously – the KKK using a mafia-style oath and Moxie Marlinspike using technology – as the FBI must know very well
http://slovakia.humanists.net/mafiask.htm

The fact that OP thinks its insane to think of the KKK in any way other than extreme racists doesn’t invalidate the comparison, though it suggests a surprising ignorance. It’s a good idea to know the basic facts about organizations that you hate, not just those you like, as otherwise how can you argue against them?

Anonymous Coward says:

The left does it all the time

Why would the KKK be the FBI’s immediate go to in terms of talking about him?

This is a typical debate tactic, and I use that term loosely, used by the left. Start the name calling and labeling and shut down the “debate”. What debate you ask? Exactly, there is no debate because the labeling and name calling are the first thing out of their mouth. Then they walk away and feel like they are the winner. Sadly, the rest of us see the tactic for what it is and just shake our heads. But a large portion of the population falls for it every time.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The left does it all the time

urine idjit, intellectually dishonest people of ALL political stripes use that tactic, libtards have no monopoly on the tactic over conservatards…
reject the dominant paradigm: it is NOT left against right, liberals against conservatives, dem’rats against rethugs, it is US 99% against the 1%… (really, more like .01%)
the sheeple must awaken…

Anonymous Coward says:

“Why would the KKK be the FBI’s immediate go to in terms of talking about him?”

Because the KKK have been in the news quite a bit recently (running for office, endorsing a Presidential Candidate, saying their views are now deemed acceptable etc) and so they are an example of an extremist group where it’s pretty easy for most people to agree that they’re extreme extremists.

If the KKK had not been in the news so much recently they’d have picked some other group who might have been less well accepted as extreme. In other words, the name recognition factor.

WTF says:

Life is an interesting thing. Slavery is abolished but our government passes regulation that defy the constitution and our civil liberties. So now we have a regulation cage that the police, fbi, nsa, cia, etc. enforce and they say the innocent has nothing fear. We should fear all tyranny! How can you be free when you go left or right and you break a regulation and live in fear of being physically caged or taxed (citation)… rinse and repeat. You’re better off joining the force and being internal affairs. When did the job of being in a position of authority take precedence over personal ethics and civil liberties?

Tyl says:

Re: Re:

Slavery is abolished…

That’s a common misconception. It has been restricted, not abolished. It’s still allowed for convicts. All they have to do is “convict” you of something, and BINGO, you’re eligible to be a slave.

It should be remembered that many of the slaves brought over from Africa were “convicted” of something after being captured by an enemy tribe and before being sold into slavery. That would still pass Constitutional muster today. Think about that.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: You're confusing encryption with anonymity.

The KKK uses hoods to hide there identities.

Those who use encryption do so to hide their private business.

This would be like the FBI, in response to the KKK, wanting to ban all opaque clothes.

Or…, if we want a less absurd analogy, the FBI saying face-shots should be a norm with resumes, so that the HR people can screen out the ugly ones, or those that are the wrong color.

Philip says:

Logic and contrast with freedom of speech

The FBI spokesperson, by my interpretation, was pointing out an extreme case of the first amendment, saying that Moxie is not one. How fast is a 747? If we’re going to say it’s a fast or slow airplane, let’s look at the sr71 and an old fashioned craft for a reference.

Using KKK members for a reference makes Moxie appear a lot less worthy of the FBI’s criticism which the spokesperson would not give.

Allowing people to hold whatever views they want gives rational minded people a chance to enlighten misguided folks through debate. if they’re not afraid to speak their minds then we can all team up and speak our minds to them and hopefully convince them they are wrong. That argument assumes that the majority will choose the truth when shown. “We find these truths self evident” type of thinking. When misguided people are afraid to join an “open source” debate or are forced underground, we really do have something to worry about. Surely the FBI does not want that. Looking at things that way, the First amendment is a common friend to all of us, members of the FBI included.

P.S. (in case of misinterpretation) I have read about Moxie. I like him. Racism is my enemy. I’ve walked the walk for my whole life and I’m proud of that. Joined in debates, seemed to win against racism. Thanks to the fact that holding views is legal.

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