NY DA Cy Vance Asks Law Enforcement About Problems With Encryption; Won't Take 'No Problems' For An Answer

from the click-'submit'-to-confirm-bias dept

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance must be exhausted. Vance has been the New York face of the anti-encryption push -- a state-level James Comey with the NYPD as his backing band. He's held histrionic press conferences and issued editorials via The Paper of Record. He's also leveraging the web to muster his anti-encryption forces. As Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai reports for Motherboard, he's asking law enforcement officers to show him on the webform where the encrypted phone abused the investigation.

[T]he Manhattan District Attorney’s office quietly put out a questionnaire last fall using the online platform Survey Monkey. The survey was made with the goal of compiling “statistics on the national scope of the problem,” according to a district attorney’s spokesperson, who explained that it was created for the International Association of Chief of Police conference in Chicago.

The survey didn’t get much attention, but it was spotted and tweeted out by Declan McCullagh, a former CNET reporter who now works on a news app called Recent News.
The survey contains a variety of questions that would receive interjections of "objection: leading" from opposing counsel. The SurveyMonkey form (which you can fill out for fun and noise here) assumes every responding law enforcement official/officer will have been stymied by an encrypted phone at some point. Answering "no" to a question like "Have you encountered a smartphone, or other device, that you have been unable to get into because of encryption?" doesn't end that particular line of questioning. Instead, the respondent is forced to answer an unskippable follow-up question, as pointed out by Franceschi-Bicchierai.


The spokesperson for Cy Vance's office declined to state whether the results of the survey would be made public or how the office "independently verifies" the law enforcement status of respondents. But Joan Vollero did object to Motherboard portraying the survey's release as "quiet," stating that it "posted publicly" on the office's website. It was apparently released in conjunction with Cy Vance's "white paper" on encryption, the one where he stated he wasn't calling for a ban on encryption before calling on lawmakers to prevent the sale and use of encrypted phones, possibly with some sort of a ban. However, this white paper + survey was not accompanied by a press release, so its release was stealthier than most.

Because respondents aren't given the option to talk about their lack of problems with encrypted phones, Vance will be able to compile plenty of data that agrees with his conclusions. The data may never be made public in raw form, but it will certainly be used at some point to support his arguments during future press conferences and Congressional testimony.

Filed Under: cyrus vance, district attorney, encryption, evidence, going dark, iphones, manhattan


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 9 Mar 2016 @ 7:29am

    Only acceptable answers allowed

    That answering 'No' to #4 didn't skip #5, and the wording on #5 itself('In what types of cases has...') makes it abundantly clear that there was only one answer that they were looking for, and they had no interest in anything but it.

    This 'survey' wasn't about seeing whether or not encryption had presented a problem to police, it started with the assumption that it had, and went from there.

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

  • icon
    BentFranklin (profile), 9 Mar 2016 @ 7:56am

    This is a type of dishonesty and corruption that is unfortunately rampant throughout society.

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

  • identicon
    Whoever, 9 Mar 2016 @ 8:39am

    But .....

    But I thought that the problem with encryption was "terrorists might use it". Where is that item in the list?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Mar 2016 @ 8:50am

    Going dark is a lack of people skills problem, law enforcement has lost the ability to relate to people, and instead are relying on technology.

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

    • icon
      Deputy Dickwad (profile), 9 Mar 2016 @ 9:07am

      Re: Listen UP CITIZEN!

      I have people SKILLZ!

      I'M GOOD AT DEALING WITH PEOPLE!

      WTF IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE!!!!

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

      • identicon
        Sgt. Arsehatt, 9 Mar 2016 @ 10:27am

        Re: Re: Listen UP CITIZEN!

        Calm down son. They are part of a malicious group called "the public". Just ignore them as the rest of us do.
        Unless you need some exercise or shooting practice. They make excellent punching bags and targets.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Mar 2016 @ 11:54am

      Re:

      Money! It is cheaper to buy power for ten computers than having an infiltration expert. Since money makes the world go around it is not yet a definite loss of ability, as much as a saving exercise. That encryption and rerouting are partial showstoppers, doesn't mean that you cannot save money. It just doesn't give the quality of information they are used to, which makes for more potential targets and less prioritized surveillance targets.

      As long as the government wants "better" ability to catch bad guys, it is much more legit to ask for more data than to improve existing methods since improving existing methods would imply that previously they weren't perfect, which usually backfires onto the responsible politicians.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 Mar 2016 @ 10:52am

      Re:

      seems like they rely on intimidation tactics more these days

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Mar 2016 @ 8:57am

    In what types of cases has your investigation/prosecution been impeded by Apple's encryption practices?
    This is one of those 'Google IS the internet' kinds of perceptions, isn't it. Very well. My perception is that having a stick shoved up up your butt decreases one's technological kung-fu to the level of "someday I WILL master this broom". On the other hand, the stick does give one excellent posture at the dinner table, which is probably a greater benefit to a New York DA than any actual knowledge.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Mar 2016 @ 9:14am

    maybe, but filling it out with junk was fun.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Mar 2016 @ 9:24am

    Did My Part and Answered them all

    I was even truthful. Not once has encryption prevented me from getting to the data.

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

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 9 Mar 2016 @ 9:32am

    which you can fill out for fun and noise here

    Request: a script to keep filling the form with spoofed ip addresses automatically.

    Reward for fulfilling it: the warm feeling you are screwing an idiot that happens to be law enforcement.

    Thank you.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Mar 2016 @ 9:32am

    This isn't the first time I've seen surveys not well written or thought out. Many online surveys do require an answer of some kind to continue. It's always amusing to be presented with a question that doesn't have a form of "NA" for an answer when the question doesn't apply to you. I have encountered "What stage is your cancer? 1,2,3, or 4; my answer should be NA as I don't have cancer but that's not a choice. I've encountered a question asking what pet(s) I have in my house; I have no pets but that's not a choice in the answer selections. "How many fatal heart attacks have you had?" Say what???

    Even NOT asking certain questions can skew an outcome. Several years ago I received a customer satisfaction survey from one retailer. After filling it out I realized there was one glaring omission: this retailer asked zero questions about the interaction between customer and employee. I've received similar surveys from other retailers and all of them had questions about customer/employee interaction but this one didn't. The reality was (and still is) that for this particular retailer customer/employee interaction is minimal or lacking. The logical conclusion is that this retailer knows they're weak in this area and doesn't want to hear about it.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Mar 2016 @ 10:18am

    ... but in the expanded survey

    4. Have you encountered a smartphone, or other device, that you have been unable to get into because of encryption?
    > Yes

    5. In what types of cases has your investigation been impeded by Apple's encryption practices? Please select...
    > Other

    5a. Other: Please explain...
    > On no investigation involving Android devices has Apple provided the least bit of assistance in decryption.

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

  • icon
    radarmonkey (profile), 9 Mar 2016 @ 10:59am

    White Paper

    ...Cy Vance's "white paper" on encryption...
    For all his actual knowledge, it should be just that: a blank piece of white paper.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Mar 2016 @ 1:51pm

    Cy Vance and doing the job

    Cy Vance: "What cases have you had encryption problems on?"

    Detectives: "None. Because we do our jobs well."

    Cy Vance: "It's doing your damn job to find me some encryption problems. Stop doing your investigative jobs so damned well."

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

  • identicon
    Todd, 9 Mar 2016 @ 6:00pm

    Covered by the 1st and 2nd amendments...!

    Argh... Recall that hard crypto is treated as a munition by the State department, for import/export restrictions!

    "When math is outlawed, only outlaws will do math!"

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

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 10 Mar 2016 @ 10:12am

      Re: Covered by the 1st and 2nd amendments...!

      Argh... Recall that hard crypto is treated as a munition by the State department, for import/export restrictions!

      So we just need to get the NRA involved and they will make sure our 2nd amendment right to bear encryption is protected.

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

  • icon
    CanadianByChoice (profile), 9 Mar 2016 @ 8:57pm

    It's not an error

    Any LEO that is filling out the survey honestly will be stopped right there. When they find they cannot continue without lying, they'll shrug, say "oh, well" and give up.
    This means that - when it's analysed - 100% of (ligitimate) respondants will report having had problems involving encryption!

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

  • icon
    bwburke94 (profile), 10 Mar 2016 @ 3:20am

    Cy Vance, please answer "yes" or "no"...

    ...have you stopped beating your wife?

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

  • icon
    wshuff (profile), 10 Mar 2016 @ 6:49am

    4. Is Cy Vance a bloviating hopeless tool? Yes No X

    5. What kind of bloviating tool is Cy Vance? Select all that apply. [This question requires an answer]
    __ helpless
    __ dickless
    __ the kind that sodomizes livestock
    __ one that is obsessed with the "backdoor"
    __ one with better hair than Donald Trump but far less money
    __ Other

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


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