Fraternal Order Of Police Opposes Biden FCC Nom Because She….Supports Encryption

from the people-against-math dept

We’d already noted how telecom and media giants eager to keep their spoils from the Trump era have been waging a not so subtle smear campaign on Biden FCC Commissioner nomination Gigi Sohn, using loyal GOP lawmakers as marionettes. Sohn is broadly popular across both sides of the aisle, but she’s also a fairly fierce advocate of functional regulatory oversight, transparency, and market competition. So companies like AT&T and News Corporation have been seeding a lot of gibberish in DC and in select press outlets about how she’s a “radical” who wants to “censor conservatives” and hurt puppies.

Last week the Fraternal Order of Police joined the fray with a facts-optional missive opposing Sohn’s nomination, claiming it creates “serious public safety considerations.” Their problem? Sohn supports (gasp!) encryption:

“the FOP and many others in the law enforcement community at large are deeply troubled by the active and enthusiastic leadership role of Ms. Sohn as a board member for Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in their forceful advocacy of end-to-end encryption and ?user-only-access??often referred to in the law enforcement world as ?going dark.? These new encryption methods for communications are causing Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies to rapidly lose the capability to obtain information necessary to protect the public from crime and violence.”

As Techdirt has long noted, this position is baseless nonsense pushed by fans of hyper surveillance (and the illusion of safety that creates). Encryption is simply math. It’s just another useful tool in a tool chest, used by anybody looking for heightened security and privacy in transactions. The fact this sometimes includes terrible people is not the fault of the encryption itself, yet the folks who engage in mindless opposition to the technology perpetually struggle to understand this. Worse, they fail to understand (or just don’t care) that weakening encryption increases the risk of abuse, decreasing privacy and security for everyone.

Amusingly, FOP’s positioning on this stuff isn’t what you’d call consistent. Whereas the group claims that Sohn simply being on the board of an organization that supports end-to-end encryption (the EFF) is some kind of cardinal sin, the organization itself has fought tooth and nail against the decryption of police radios for transparency’s sake. In other words, useful tools are only sacred when we use them. When others advocate for consistent and meaningful security and encryption integrity, they’re unqualified for public office. Funny how that works.

That said, the encryption stuff is possibly just misdirection from the start.

Telecom lobbyists have a long, detailed history of cozying up to various interest groups and encouraging them to support certain positions, even if they have nothing really to do with the group’s subject matter (or undermine their constituents’ best interests). This sort of “astroturf” work often involves co-opting existing groups (from cattlemen’s associations to civil rights groups), and encouraging them to support a company’s position in exchange for a new event center or other perks. These sort of quid pro quo relationships are rarely put in writing, so it’s easy for groups to deny there’s any direct financial link. But the tactic itself is documentable, and is designed to create the illusion of broad support for bad policy (like say, scuttling the nomination of a largely popular regulatory appointment interested in reining in telecom and media giants).

That’s not to say FOP couldn’t have come up with its terrible argument without prodding (the organization has a long history of terrible arguments). But the fairly hollow letter does come at a time where AT&T and News Corporation are desperately trying to outsource opposition with an eye on delaying or derailing Sohn’s nomination. The real goal is to keep the unpopular favors gleaned during the Trump era (the death of net neutrality, the erosion of the FCC’s consumer protection authority, the dismantling of decades-old media consolidation rules with bipartisan support) and keep the agency mired in 2-2 partisan gridlock for as long as humanly possible. They can’t just come out and admit that’s the game, so they utilize a long line of ethically-malleable proxy organizations wielding flimsy pretexts and baseless arguments.

Again, Sohn can be confirmed by Democratic vote alone, but the longer the appointment is delayed, the less time the Biden FCC has to implement reform companies like AT&T and News Corporation won’t like. And if this phony and farmed opposition gets loud enough to sway some centrist Democrats like Sinema and Manchin, all the better for media and telecom giants terrified of meaningful oversight and actual reform.

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Companies: eff, fraternal order of police

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Comments on “Fraternal Order Of Police Opposes Biden FCC Nom Because She….Supports Encryption”

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Douglas Hill says:

Re: Also...

They have some interaction with it in CATV and amateur radio.

CATV has it because of DRM, which isn’t really relevant here.

Amateur radio prohibits encryption (unless it’s to a satellite), but that’s just one of many restrictions, which is a different debate entirely. When encryption and public safety have crossed, it’s been in the context of healthcare data in emergency communications, talking about allowing encryption. Nothing came of it, though.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Use the gun nuts argument...

If you ban encryption then only criminals will use encryption.

This is all nonsense and political theater. They know nothing will come of this but it is something they can add to their tough on crime talking points. ie: oh look, we want to make the job easier for LEO but the other side won’t let us.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Any day now I'm sure...

Taking the logic of ‘encryption can be used by bad guys therefore encryption should be disallowed for everyone’ guns are also used by bad guys(and some of them don’t even have badges) so guns should clearly also be prohibited for everyone, as such I look forward to the FoP’s statement of position against gun ownership to reduce the ability for criminals to make use of them which I’m sure they’ll be releasing any day now to refute their otherwise grossly hypocritical position.

Encryption might ‘protect’ criminals but it protects vastly more innocent people from them making those arguing against encryption a much greater threat to the public than those criminals could dream of being and an accusation that someone is ‘pro-encryption’ a glowing endorsement rather than the condemnation the accusers would want it to be.

ECA (profile) says:

Part of all this.

Tech corps dont like changing things to much.
And encryption is one thing thats complicated enough that changing it is a PAIN in the but.
Doing hardware encryption is 1 thing, and Software is another. But mostly its the towers, Specific data can not be encrypted to connect to the towers.
Adding hardware and software together also MEANS the person receiving it has to have the SAME configs. or its useless. And someone could make LOTS of money.
Isnt there a person in court NOW, thats been Fixing phones not to be traced??
The Hardware encryption probably has been broken along time, as math is math And it would be as easy as buying the Phone type you want and turning it on, and checking the differences in data from one to anther. UNLESS they are lazy as hell. Adding abit of software hacking, wouldnt be to hard, but the person receiving it would need the same, cause the tower dont give a hill of beans about it.

Anonymous Coward says:

I know two former FBI employees who both are critical of law enforcement officers that advocate against encryption. One of them believed there was a third party who had the ear of people well placed in the FBI and was convincing them that encryption is a big problem. The other had less-than-kind things to say about the Fraternal Order of Police and said "going dark" is a lazy lie wrapped with an easy button desire.

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