Manhattan District Attorney Still Totally Ignorant About Encryption, Slams Tim Cook & Demands Legislation To Wipe Out Encryption

from the not-a-good-idea,-cyrus dept

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance really doesn't like encryption -- and really doesn't seem even remotely interested in the fact that he doesn't appear to understand even the basics of what he's talking about. Vance started whining about mobile phone encryption in January of this year, falsely claiming it meant these phones were "sealed off from law enforcement." Of course, that ignores the fact that only some information is encrypted, and plenty of other stuff is readily available. Over the summer, Vance kept up the campaign, with a ridiculous nearly fact free op-ed in the NY Times in which he blamed an unsolved murder in Evanston Illinois (note: ~800 miles from Manhattan) on encryption. As we noted at the time, the facts didn't match the reality. The phone in that case (from Samsung) didn't come with default local encryption turned on, and it's not at all clear the phone even had that much value in the investigation (and, remember, communications metadata was still readily available).

Vance then really went for the big score last month in releasing a white paper calling for a legislative ban on encryption. Of course, knowing how ridiculous that sounds, he tries to claim that he's not actually asking for a legislative ban... while actually asking for a legislative ban. But it's totally a ban. The specifics of his legislative proposal is that "designers and makers of operating systems not design or build them to be impregnable to lawful governmental searches."

This, of course, would do next to nothing in helping Vance, as those who wished to encrypt the contents of their phones could still install third party applications to do so. Furthermore, those who wished to communicate via encrypted end-to-end communications platforms could still do that as well. Oh, and also, in demanding that everyone design devices that have weak security, Vance would be intentionally putting most people at a higher degree of risk... all to solve a single unsolved murder in Evanston, which probably wouldn't have been solved even if that phone hadn't been encrypted.

Either way, Vance just doesn't want to let go. And with Tim Cook going on 60 Minutes and repeating his pretty straightforward (and knowledgeable) defense of encryption, Vance can't let the opportunity pass, without again attacking Apple and demanding legislation to make everyone less safe.
“Local law enforcement agencies rely on photos, videos, and messages stored on lawfully seized smartphones to hold perpetrators accountable, deliver justice for victims, and exonerate the innocent. Apple implemented full-disk encryption so that it could no longer comply with the judicial search warrants that make this work possible.

“iPhones are now the first consumer products in American history that are beyond the reach of lawful warrants. The result is crimes go unsolved and victims are left beyond the protection of law.‎

“Because Apple is unwilling to help solve this problem, the time for a national, legislative solution is now.”
Once again, almost none of that is true. Apple didn't implement that for the purpose of not complying with warrants, but to protect its customers from harm. You would think that someone who works in law enforcement would appreciate such preventative measures. As for relying on photos, videos and messages -- those are rarely stored exclusively on the device (hence the local encryption doesn't matter for law enforcement) and rarely the key issue in a case. If they were, Vance wouldn't have to point to a case nearly half the country away as his prime example.

Second, the idea that "iPhone are... beyond the reach of lawful warrants" is also total bullshit. This is just a small sliver of information on some iPhones if used in a specific way that are beyond the scope of a warrant. But there has always been information that is beyond the scope of a warrant -- such as the information in someone's brain.

You'd almost think that Vance is trying to purposely mislead people into thinking that they can plan crimes on their iPhones and the information won't be accessible. Gee, I wonder why he'd want to do that...

Finally, the idea that crimes are going unsolved because of this again remains to be proven, because almost every example given so far has been debunked, and they frequently look like law enforcement types blaming encryption for other failures.

Vance, like Senator Tom Cotton, really really dislike encryption and their statements against Tim Cook demonstrate a willingness to either expose their own ignorance publicly, or a willingness to flat out lie to the American public to serve their own political needs. Neither is a particularly good look for a government official.

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  • icon
    rw (profile), 22 Dec 2015 @ 8:14am

    Sound to me more like a criminal than an attorney. He wants unauthorized access to devices he doesn't own. Isn't that what the black hat hackers do? When you can't tell the difference between law enforcement and criminals, they are ALL criminals.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 22 Dec 2015 @ 10:57am

      Re:

      That's not a criterion. Law enforcement can also lock people away, something that is not allowed to ordinary citizens. He is arguing for authorized access to devices he doesn't own.

      However, the current Stingray disaster makes clear that Law Enforcement is wiping their ass with the Constitution and is shitting on the warrant and due process requirement, being perfectly content with unauthorized access. So it is pretty clear that the only feasible way to pull Law Enforcement back into heeding the Constitution is to render their illegal toys non-operative.

      Which is what encryption is about. He doesn't like it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Violynne (profile), 22 Dec 2015 @ 8:32am

    Cyrus Vance.

    I'm guessing his parents were big Hollywood movie buffs.

    This name totally screams "villain".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Dec 2015 @ 10:46am

      Re:

      ...Cyrus Vance...This name totally screams "villain"...

      I'm old enough to remember the presidency of Jimmy Carter and he had a Secretary of State named Cyrus Vance. I keep thinking this was the same person so googled and found out that Jimmy Carter's Cyrus Vance has passed away. While not villainous the only bright spot of that presidency in foreign policy was the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel; the rest was a disaster.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Dec 2015 @ 12:28pm

      Re:

      His father was US Secretary of State.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      gregathome (profile), 22 Dec 2015 @ 12:43pm

      Re:

      His father was Cyrus Vance, US Secretary of State under Carter.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Dec 2015 @ 9:46am

    Its a miracle anyone solved a crime before smartphones. They must have actually had to interview people, inspect crime scenes, and collect evidence with tweezers and cotton swabs. How barbaric!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Dec 2015 @ 9:55am

    Just pass along his banking credentials to the Chinese and see how much he rallies against encryption then.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Dec 2015 @ 10:02am

    Waaaahhhhh!!!!

    Poor, poor Cyrus Vance.

    He just doesn't understand that law enforcement is hard, and sometimes, just sometimes, you're expected to have to WORK to solve a crime without having every single piece of information since the dawn of time at your disposal to solve it.

    Sorry Cyrus. Work is hard. Someone should've told you that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 22 Dec 2015 @ 10:06am

    "Apple implemented full-disk encryption so that it could no longer comply with the judicial search warrants that make this work possible. "

    No, it implemented encryption largely due to customer demand as a result of news about extrajudicial activities by law enforcement.

    Is it that these politicians are actually this stupid on this or that they think their constituents are?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Dec 2015 @ 10:07am

    “Local law enforcement agencies rely on photos, videos, and messages stored on lawfully seized smartphones to hold perpetrators accountable, deliver justice for victims, and exonerate the innocent.

    What did they do before the invention of still and movie cameras, and phones?

    When they had to rely on a whistle to summon aid, they made sure that they knew and got on with the locals in the areas that they policed, and this meant that they got good intelligence on criminal as well.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Dec 2015 @ 10:11am

    these guys aren't stupid. as mentioned in the article, its good to try and understand why someone in his position would make this argument. he probably knows that a law banning encryption will not get passed. but this argument is in his favor if it can convince criminals that using an iPhone to plan and communicate with regard to a crime is safe way to not get caught.

    his career is not in preventing crime so his interests are in how to prove guilt after the fact. by making criminals feel safer makes his job easier.

    its quite smart, maybe i'm giving him too much credit.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Blaine (profile), 22 Dec 2015 @ 10:21am

    Set an example

    These people pushing to ban encryption should set a good example and stop using this evil technology. No encrypted files on their phones, computers or portable drives. No HTTPS for any web sites.

    In fact as a trial run how about all tech companies just force HTTP on any connection from a gov owned ip?

    This would have a couple benefits.

    First, of course, they can show us how a good citizen behaves and that it's completely safe.

    Second, FOIA requests would go down, since we could just go get whatever we want.

    Win Win

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    dr evil, 22 Dec 2015 @ 10:24am

    where to start

    he should lead by example... no NYC gubmint employees (including the police) may have anything encrypted. Then make the phone numbers and server addresses public. No passwords, as this could be taken as a form of encryption because it limits access.

    don't expect too many bright people coming out of NY, after all, they voted in Hillary because she was 'one of them' right after moving there. (similar to carpetbagger...)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Dec 2015 @ 11:06am

    LEOs complain only because they are ignorant

    I just got a new phone and first thing I did was enable encryption. When starting or rebooting the phone you have to enter in the encryption key for it to boot up. But once booted all the data is decrypted, the only thing that is securing it is the lock screen.

    By default after 15 failed attempts trying to get past the lock screen the phone does a factory reset. Seems like awesome protection should my phone be stolen or lost. Prevents average criminals from stealing my identity and such. Not sure why LEO would advocate against such crime preventing technology.

    Its not really that big of a hurdle for law enforcement if they use their brains:

    1. Planning to arrest someone who has a phone? Arrest them when they are using it and make sure you keep the phone from locking. You now have access to all the decrypted data.

    2. Already arrested someone and their phone is locked? Leave the phone with them in the interview room, take it from them when they unlock it to post their jail selfie on Facebook. Enjoy your now decrypted data.

    One could think of a thousand other ways like faking a text message from their close buddy "Yo Dawg, how much is yo bail?" and take the unlocked phone from them when they respond.

    If LEO is incapable of using social engineering to get the information they need then they should retire and let a real detective take their place.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 22 Dec 2015 @ 2:07pm

      Re: LEOs complain only because they are ignorant

      Not sure why LEO would advocate against such crime preventing technology.

      Because it prevents the crimes they'd like to commit? Sort of obvious I should think.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Median Wilfred, 22 Dec 2015 @ 11:23am

    Cyrus Vance and Tom Cotton walk into a bar...

    It suddenly hits me what the REAL issue is. I've long wondered about the conservative dislike of certain corporations and universities, and I'd tentatively chalked it up to some corporations and universities openly go further in various equalities than the US government demands. Domestic partnerships, civil partnerships, gay partnerships, and gender equalities were all recognized by some large corporations and universities some years ago, well before the US government demanded it. That is, the conservative dislike of some universities and corporations has to do with prejudice against gays and lesbians.

    Cyrus Vance and Tom Cotton are peeved about encryption because they see the public face of encryption as Tim Cook, an openly gay CEO of a major corporation. Encryption is gay, and therefore to be avoided, not unlike particle physics in the late 30s and early 40s was a "Jewish science".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Dec 2015 @ 11:30am

    There's always an option...

    > not design or build them to be impregnable to lawful governmental searches.

    There are still some remaining members of The Beatles alive. And as we know, nothing is Beatle proof!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Dec 2015 @ 11:32am

    " Because Apple is unwilling to help solve this problem, the time for a national, legislative solution is now."

    Actually Mr. Vance, given that you and the increasing list of elected officials are not listening to these companies such as Apple in the reality of encryption (and in fact waging a coordinated PR campaign against it), it would appear the only time for a national solution is for the public to unilaterally demand all of your resignations (to include those running for president).

    At a minimum, you and those against encryption should lead by example and demonstrate to the public how one is to live with your solutions to encryption in our current society.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    David (profile), 22 Dec 2015 @ 12:00pm

    The downside

    The downside, as always is that their pulpit is bigger than yours. The folks who would only hear their side, because it is in mainstream media, but not yours, because they don't do their own research.

    Reminds me of the end of the movie American President (paraphrased)...

    ...We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you [INSERT POLITICIAN HERE] is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things, and two things only: making you afraid of it, and telling you who's to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Dec 2015 @ 12:53pm

    By all means, read Cyrus Vance Jr's "white paper" on the topic. It gets really interesting toward the end...

    "A copy of our proposed legislation is enclosed herewith. Google supported an earlier, almost identical, version of this proposed legislation, and I presume Google would support this as well."

    Seek and ye shall find... as such, FUCK GOOGLE.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 22 Dec 2015 @ 2:14pm

      Re:

      Well, I'm not sure that Vance uses "supported", "almost identical" and "presume" in meanings supported by a dictionary.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Dec 2015 @ 1:33pm

      Re:

      That was Vance utterly lying his face off...Google never supported his proposal at all and in fact argued against it

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 28 Dec 2015 @ 10:57pm

        Re: Re:

        Would really love to believe that. Can you provide any links where Google calls out Vance on this bald-faced lie? They'd sure be handy in the future.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ryunosuke, 22 Dec 2015 @ 1:48pm

    let them have thier cake....

    and when the Chinese or Russians start listening in on their conversations and start blackmailing them... let's see if they back-track so fast that they literally break the laws of time and physics.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Dec 2015 @ 3:10pm

    Sounds like another traitor being paid to promote an idea and will ignore everything to the contrary to make sure they get that fat paycheck.

    Foreswearing his oaths for a payday.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Dec 2015 @ 4:23pm

    Quantum computing makes encryption irrelevant?

    Does ubiquitous quantum desktop computing in the near term make encryption largely a moot point anyway?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Rekrul, 22 Dec 2015 @ 6:14pm

      Re: Quantum computing makes encryption irrelevant?

      I would think it would simply maintain the status quo. The limiting factor to encryption is processor speed. The larger the key, the longer the processor takes to encrypt data using it. Instead of 128-bit encryption, we could be using 128K or even 128MB encryption, but you wouldn't be able to do it in real time. You'd take a picture and the device would print;

      Encrypting: 1%, ETA: 5 minutes.

      While quantum computers should allow the cracking of current encryption much faster, encryption on a quantum computer should allow much larger keys to be used, negating the speed advantage for cracking.

      In other words, encryption on a quantum computer could be complex enough that even another quantum computer would still take a very long time to crack it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 27 Dec 2015 @ 1:35pm

        Re: Re: Quantum computing makes encryption irrelevant?

        dead on..its trillions of times easier to ENcrypt than Decrypt as you don't have to go through every combination trying each one in turn....

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 22 Dec 2015 @ 6:21pm

    lawfully seized...

    judicial search warrants...

    lawful warrants...

    Where was all this concern for "lawfully" seizing devices and using "lawful" warrants when police were regularly searching through people's phones? Or when the intelligence agencies were conducting mass surveillance? Or when the TSA was insisting it had the authority to seize and search any electronic device carried by a traveler?

    Maybe if the police and other agencies had actually been following the law, companies wouldn't be rushing to encrypt everything now.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Web_Rat (profile), 22 Dec 2015 @ 6:22pm

    Another day, another lamebrain proposes legislation!

    Every week another story about how law enforcement is so behind the eight ball and at a severe disadvantage in crime solving because of encryption. No matter how many times security experts reiterate the fact there is no golden key, politicians think the solution is just more legislation to fix the problem.

    If it really is that simple, why not pass a law that proclaims that all politicians have the ability to understand the complex issues regarding computer security and encryption and makes them all defacto experts!

    Oh wait, you just can't fix stupid.........

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Theo Chino, 22 Dec 2015 @ 7:22pm

    In the 50, there was a project called LOMEX in Manhattan ...

    In the 50's there was a project called Lower Manhattan Expressway led by Robert Moses where he wanted to build a highway.

    I have publicly challenged Mr. Vance to get his technologist to build the OS he want us to use it and we'll show him how it is broken.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uLB_OF-PHrc

    Need a Twitter Tag, please submit a tag to get it trended.
    https://twitter.com/theochino/status/679147204771250176

    Also looking for volunteers to build a nice website to get the message across and educate the citizenry.

    Theo Chino
    http://replnydafv2cnnl3.onion
    http://www.replacemanhattanda.org

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 23 Dec 2015 @ 1:22am

    Remember kids, always leave your doors unlocked and your keys in the ignition switch, or the bad guys will win.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Dec 2015 @ 3:54am

    Tell me more about these "brain" things - they sound dangerous!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jack, 23 Dec 2015 @ 8:01am

    Encryption doesn't stop Lawful Access

    Anyone with half a brain will realize that encryption does not stop police with a warrant from accessing an encrypted device. If the police get a warrant and a criminal refuses to provide the key, they will be held in criminal contempt until they do so.

    Just ask H Beatty Chadwick about that...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    WDS (profile), 23 Dec 2015 @ 11:25am

    With Vance specifically calling out the iPhone, and saying it is totally out of reach of law enforcement, is it possible that before he made his announcement, he purchased a large block of Apple stock, and is trying to get all the crooks to give up their burner phones and buy iPhones?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Dec 2015 @ 1:37pm

      Re:

      Pssh, Apple turns over 'encrypted' data all the time.
      Their call centre employees in the North East of england (Gateshead to be exact) have access to every single cloud-stored document and imessage and regularly pass them around to colleagues for shits n giggles...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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