Attorney General Barr's Anti-Encryption Efforts Aren't Supported By Many FBI Officials

from the going-to-war-with-the-one-many-army-you-have dept

When Attorney General William Barr speaks, he represents the DOJ and all the agencies it oversees. The problem is that Bill Barr’s recent anti-encryption agitating doesn’t reflect the views of the people he oversees. While Barr is trying to turn the public against Apple by suggesting it protects terrorists and murderers, FBI employees are worried his words and actions will harm them more than help them.

The Wall Street Journal spoke to people in the FBI and DOJ who aren’t convinced Barr’s doing the right thing by taking a hardline stance on encryption. [Non-paywalled version here.]

Some senior FBI officials say privately they are worried that Mr. Barr’s sharp tone could undermine relationships with technology companies they have worked hard to develop, people familiar with the matter said.

The bureau relies on close partnerships with tech firms in a range of investigations, with companies complying with legal requests for data and troubleshooting technical obstacles that agents may struggle with, current and former officials said.

Pushing Apple is unproductive. It damages relationships while gaining absolutely nothing for the DOJ and FBI. Apple has already given the FBI all the information it can pull from the Pensacola shooters’ accounts. Breaking encryption simply isn’t an option — not when it leads directly to reduced security for the rest of Apple’s customers.

Many in the FBI realize this. Barr just doesn’t seem to care. If Barr continues to push his anti-encryption agenda, he not only risks reducing cooperation from tech companies but also the trust of the people who work for him. Barr says Apple’s not doing enough to help investigations. Internally, the FBI disagrees.

Some FBI officials were stunned by Mr. Barr’s rebuke of Apple, the people familiar with the matter said, and believe the Pensacola case is the wrong one to press in the encryption fight, in part because they believed Apple had already provided ample assistance to the probe.

Barr’s ultimate goal may be another courtroom showdown. Others in the FBI would prefer precedent to outside help from phone-cracking companies. Barr has aligned himself with those officials. But the ones pushing for precedent seem unaware of how much collateral damage the FBI itself might suffer if things don’t work out the way Barr wants them to.

[Former DHS Secretary Michael] Chertoff said a court ruling against the Justice Department could limit access to widely available forensic tools that allow investigators to get into phones in some situations, for instance. “It’s not clear to me why this fight is advantageous to anybody,” he said.

Barr and those like them so firmly believe they’re in the right, they’re seemingly incapable of considering the negative consequences of their actions. Precedent that safeguards people’s phones against encryption-breaking efforts works against the government, restricting its access to outside assistance. But even if the FBI gets the precedent it wants, the nation as a whole will be less secure because encryption will be compromised severely and permanently. Barr and his anti-encryption buddies are willing to sacrifice everyone else’s security for their own ends. That’s not just selfish. It’s also dangerous.

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Comments on “Attorney General Barr's Anti-Encryption Efforts Aren't Supported By Many FBI Officials”

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32 Comments
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Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Power...absolutely

What we see as dangerous, Barr and his cronies see as advantage. When working to suppress rights and gain more control, dangerousness to the proletariat is of no concern to those with power cravings. We should be more worried about how to undue the damage Barr et al are inflicting, regardless of who wins the next elections.

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Kinda late to be worrying about burning that bridge...

Some senior FBI officials say privately they are worried that Mr. Barr’s sharp tone could undermine relationships with technology companies they have worked hard to develop, people familiar with the matter said.

Given Apple is yet again being maligned and dragged through the mud because they have the utter gall to think that the DOJ does not run the company I’m pretty sure that that damage has already been done, and at this point it’s only increasing.

Apple and the other companies watching are seeing quite clearly just how the likes of the DOJ think of them and how ‘grateful’ they are for past help, so they’d have to be utter fools to trust them at this point or do more than they absolutely have to, knowing that any assistance can and likely will be used against them in the future.

Anonymous Hero says:

Pushing Apple is unproductive.

Reuters published an article that Mike Masnick mentioned on TechDirt two days ago.

The article claimed that Apple chose not to use end-to-end encryption on iCloud backups so that law enforcement could access that data.

You don’t have to weaken encryption. You just have to tell companies not to use it. Pushing Apple seems to have worked out quite well.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: '... After how you repaid us for our help the LAST time?'

You don’t have to weaken encryption. You just have to tell companies not to use it. Pushing Apple seems to have worked out quite well.

‘For how long though?’ is the question. Apple may have been willing to cave on that, but with how they’re being treated now, with claims that they aren’t willing to work with law enforcement despite the facts to the contrary, how willing are they going to be the next time the DOJ or another agency ‘asks’ them to do something similar?

bhull242 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 '... After how you repaid us for our hel

I don’t really have much to say. I could say that not updating your phone could create a security risk for you, but I mostly agree with just about everything you’re saying.

(FTR, I don’t update my phone very often either, but that’s just because I rarely have room on my phone to download the update, so I don’t really have any choice in the matter.)

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The article hear talks about pushing apple harming existing relationships.

Those existing relationships include Apple choosing to not fully encrypt iCloud backups in part due to law enforcement’s request. I have seen no evidence that the customer-service reasons also described in coverage of the decision weren’t also a factor.

I would assert that moving to a fully-encrypted backup solution was scrapped because of a combination of customer service issues (all those people who forget their passwords and can’t access their backups apple can no longer help) and law enforcement’s requests (or complaints, depending). This functions as part of the positive relationship law enforcement cultivates with Apple.

That is much different from getting a court order demanding Apple change their product, particularly in a way that opens apple back up to claims of security negligence they always get in the wake of data thefts. That court order isn’t building a working relationship, and likely would hurt future attempts to get Apple to assist in investigations without a court order.

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Apple needs to pull a Google....

‘After hearing the arguments for the two-hundredth time we have decided that the DOJ has a point in arguing that encryption only helps criminals, and will be removing it henceforth from our products. However, as a large change like that could have significant unforeseen consequences we have decided to do it in stages, starting with all devices owned by US government employees or agencies. If after several months there are no significant issues we will look into rolling the change out to the general public.’

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ECA (profile) says:

I tend to laugh..

HOw many phones that Have been cracked have had any info that led to other arrests?
None that Iv heard of.

So lets say 1% of the world is a terrorist.
All these groups would need to monitor 100%, to find the 1%, and then the number of 1% would be HUGE..
Lets try abit of reality, and say .001% are terrorists..and still you need to find them.
Lets say they have to Only look for terrorists and not collect other Incriminating DATA..

Does anyone have numbers on ALL the data they have collected monitoring the internet?? And how many sorting threw all the crap?

Anonymous Coward says:

Unintended consequences

"Some senior FBI officials say privately they are worried that Mr. Barr’s sharp tone could undermine relationships with technology companies"

Bravo, for somebody starting to think, however, this doesn’t go far enough.

Apple (or any corporation) is not a monolithic single entity. Loosely, a corporation is merely a lawful conspiracy. The people running the corporation issue orders to their subordinates, and those orders work their way down the command chain. Ultimately, the actual work is carried out by intelligent and hard working people, many of them technical. The better and best of these people can find another job, often easily. Apple management is caught between a rock and a hard place. If Apple stands firm, then arrogant clueless government officials get snitty, which is difficult. On the other hand if Apple caves, then the better and best of the people who design, build, program and manufacture Apple’s products reevaluate their presence at Apple, leaving if sufficiently unhappy. Either way Apple management and investors are caught between two fires. This scenario is being currently played out at Google and many military suppliers.

The FBI and the DOD leadership are apparently clueless regarding their dependency on a large number of people who are progressively less trusting of the government. It is in the cards that in the near future that the only people who will work on government projects are second and third rate technical talent.

The first raters corrupt enough to live down to the level AG Barr wants, can find a more lucrative job making ransomware. Soon it will be even more profitable to exploit the failings of the government projects, which have no one but inferior technical help.

Eventually, even the likes of Iran, North Korea will have enough first rate domestic talent to defeat U. S. government systems, designed, programmed and built by second and third raters.

Therefore, the harder people like AG Barr push Apple, the more the government antagonizes the people who do the real work (corporate management merely relays the nasty). The more the people who do the work are antagonized, the sooner they move to something less unpleasant.

While this idiocy is currently under President Trump, ex-President Obama did his fair share and Mr. Bloomberg and his liberal peers have publicly claimed policies which duplicate this idiocy. I suggest that a "death spiral" is in the near future.

Baruch "Golems Lil Helper"Goldstein says:

re: yeah, why disenfranchise a bunch of racists?

Sure, bad boy Barr wants to undermine that cozy relationship between Israeli CVE fraudsters and online/offline blackmailers and gang stalkers, and the DoJ which depends upon fake CVE outcomes, Barr included, is somehow in a conspiracy of deprivation of racist Israeli rights?

Yeah, seems legit, AC coward.

re: worried that Mr. Barr’s sharp tone could undermine relationships with technology companies

Which companies, AC? Can you name them? It seems those type of companies SHOULD be investigated.

Israeli spies and double nationals from Talpion Tech, or any of the many Israeli spy outfits operating in Silicon Valley , or opposed to non-Israeli related US interests?

Its a paradox,that racial/tribal/religious supremacy, huh?

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