James Comey Claims He Wants An 'Adult Conversation' About Encryption; Apparently 'Adults' Ignore Experts

from the the-child-is-you dept

Oh, James Comey. The FBI Director seems to have staked out his reputation on being the guy who will go to his grave refusing to understand what basically every technology expert has been telling him for the past couple of years: his desire to backdoor encryption will make everyone less safe. But Comey is pot committed on his belief that encryption is bad and that Silicon Valley just needs to nerd harder and it'll somehow come up with encryption that has a magic golden key for him. His latest is saying that it's time for an "adult conversation" on encryption:
"The conversation we've been trying to have about this has dipped below public consciousness now, and that's fine," Comey said at a symposium organized by Symantec, a technology company. "Because what we want to do is collect information this year so that next year we can have an adult conversation in this country."
This is not just insulting, but counterproductive. Plenty of experts have been trying their damnedest to have an "adult conversation" with Comey, explaining to him why he's wrong about the risks of "going dark," while others have -- in fairly great detail -- explained the serious dangers behind Comey's approach.

Comey's response to these efforts so far has been the equivalent of sticking his fingers in his ears and screaming "nah, nah, nah -- can't hear you!" while repeating his "nerd harder" mantra.

An "adult conversation" has to be one where someone in Comey's position is able to admit that maybe, just maybe, he's wrong. It's not one where he gets to keep demanding a new conversation until people tell him that night is day. Because that's just silly.

This new claim about an "adult conversation" is also stupidly counterproductive. All it's going to do is make the actual experts here -- like the authors of that MIT paper on the dangers of backdoor -- dig in and have absolutely no interest in dealing with Comey. How could you when he so flippantly brushes off all the work they've done already?

If we're going to have an adult conversation, it needs to at least start with a recognition that maybe Comey overreacted here. Without that, it's just Comey acting like a child, demanding that everyone do things his way over and over and over and over again.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2016 @ 9:47am

    The real news story here is that the U.B. government treats us all as children.

    "Oh, you silly child. We're are the US GOVERNMENT! We're already right, don't you know that?!"

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

  • icon
    art guerrilla (profile), 31 Aug 2016 @ 9:52am

    c'mon now, you know better...

    whenever we get to these types of issues where it APPEARS the powers that be dont know WTF they are talking about, or are being recondite about the tradeoffs they are proposing, DO NOT be fooled: they are not stoopid, they are not ignorant of the consquences of whatever little piece of eee-vil they are espousing, they know EXACTLY what the eee-vil consequences are, and that is EXACTLY why they are being proposed, they are not unintended consequences, they are eee-vil because that is what they want...
    this shit does not happen by mistake, or because they simply didnt realize the results would be bad, it happens because that is what they want...

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2016 @ 9:53am

    Comey is just looking for the right Expert. He needs to watch this YouTube video. It might help him.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg

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

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 31 Aug 2016 @ 10:00am

    Without that, it's just Comey acting like a child, demanding that everyone do things his way over and over and over and over again.

    A child with too much power and influence. Not good at all.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2016 @ 11:08am

      Re:

      At what point does the President get to fire him for treason? His agenda here is blatantly against the people, and yet he keeps on being given more chances, even when he's been proved totally incorrect.

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

      • identicon
        Thad, 31 Aug 2016 @ 12:24pm

        Re: Re:

        You seem to be implying that his agenda is not the President's. I think it absolutely is. Obama's made noises to the effect of "we can make encryption that only the Good Guys can break; you just need to nerd harder" before. So has Clinton; so has Trump; so has McCain; and on and on. It's a position that's shared by a lot of politicians, across the political spectrum.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2016 @ 10:01am

    "Adult conversation" means "treating everyone else like children".

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2016 @ 10:06am

    So, Comey wants an adult conversation. What adult will he choose to represent him in this conversation?

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

  • identicon
    Shawn, 31 Aug 2016 @ 10:06am

    Government

    Mike, you do have to remember that governments refuse to hear anything other than what they want to hear. In this case Mr Comey as a government employee and spokesman can not as a matter of policy accept that what he wants is either unsafe and unwise and/or flat out impossible.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2016 @ 10:10am

    what he obviously means is only people that do what he wants are adults. everyone else are just children that do not know what is best for them.

    It is a common enough problem with people that see themselves as the only ones that is right while everyone else that disagrees with them is obviously wrong.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2016 @ 10:12am

    The important thing to remember that the "going dark" is actually just "returning to the way things were before we broke laws or got nefarious laws passed that let us snoop through all your shit in violation of the Constitution."

    I bet your nosy neighbor with the binoculars calls it "going dark" when you close your blinds and tell her to stop going through your garbage. You can't have an adult conversation with a person who isn't acting like an adult.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2016 @ 10:17am

      Re:

      You can't have an adult conversation with a person who isn't acting like an adult.

      And in this case Comey is proving that he is incapable of being adult about the problem. Of course that is typical of people in Charge... They like power so they do not have to be adult about things to begin with!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2016 @ 10:15am

    Typical Rubbish...

    If people are not saying what you want to hear, you call them...

    Childish, Alarmist, Racist, Xenophobic, Idiot, Retard, Ignorant, and HITLER!!!...

    During the attempt to silence them.

    Of course people usually mistake the problem as being the ad hominem attacks as the example of when someone is losing their argument and this is a common fallacy... it is the attempt to shut a persons speech down entirely that marks the point where you are losing the argument. You can be 100% correct regardless of the presence of ad hominem attacks.

    So that is right folks, even a nice guy can be wrong wrong wrong!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2016 @ 10:26am

    the only adults that are ignoring 'experts' are fuckers like him!!

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

  • identicon
    Adam, 31 Aug 2016 @ 10:32am

    Justice!

    Comey is doing the equivalent of the latest street "justice" movements. He doesn't care what is right or wrong, he just wants "justice" which means an outcome he wants, not the outcome that's right.

    He's trying do rail the public like I used to do my old boss. I'd give him the answer to his conundrum and if he disagreed we'd just discuss until he said what I started with and then I'd agree with him. Once the "nerds" start saying it's possible, he'll agree and we'll get screwed.

    The difference is I was usually right when I told my boss something; Comey is so far off that his computer password is probably 12345. To quote Spaceballs: "So the combination is... one, two, three, four, five? That's the stupidest combination I've ever heard in my life! That's the kind of thing an idiot would have on his luggage!"

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

    • identicon
      techno, 31 Aug 2016 @ 11:22am

      Re: Justice!

      Wait...are you seriously equating BLM and government snooping? Are you seriously this dense? One is a populist movement opposed by white power activists and neo nazis and the other a a government policy opposed by every reputable expert in the field. They are apples and oranges even if you disagree with BLM and it shows a *HUGE* gap in your empathy, knowledge of history, and a vast amount of naïveté on your part.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2016 @ 10:53am

    Time for us to move on

    And by "Us" I mean the tech community. He can have his adult conversation in an empty room while the rest of us build the future without him.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2016 @ 10:55am

    We're done here

    All it's going to do is make the actual experts here -- like the authors of that MIT paper on the dangers of backdoor -- dig in and have absolutely no interest in dealing with Comey. How could you when he so flippantly brushes off all the work they've done already?

    Exactly. I've tried, repeatedly, to be reasonable about this, but Comey clearly wishes to ignore facts, logic, reason, history, mathematics, security, privacy, experts -- anything and everything that conflicts with his ridiculous and discredited opinions.

    It's like dealing with a flat-earther or a vaxxer or a global warming denier: these are inferior people equipped with inferior minds and they simply can't be reasoned with.

    So it's time to just insult, belittle, and ignore him, as it amuses to do so. There's really nothing productive to be done.

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

  • identicon
    I.T. Guy, 31 Aug 2016 @ 11:10am

    He keeps on asking for this "adult conversation" as if the conversation conclusion will change. Who is going to be the adult for the FBI?

    NO! jiMMii. You cannot have a backdoor to encryption.

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

  • identicon
    mcinsand, 31 Aug 2016 @ 11:37am

    what he means by 'adults'

    Comey wants people that meet the following requirements:

    1) Above 21 years of age.
    2) Zero knowledge about software.
    3) Zero knowledge of security.
    4) Zero awareness of how a computer works beyond the keyboard, mouse, and power switch.
    5) (optional but preferred) post-lobotomy

    Anyone failing to meet any of criteria would understand that encryption helps far more average citizens than n'er -do-wells. If Comey actually any incremental understanding of computers, software, or security, he would be screaming about punishing companies that do not promote encryption and citizens that fail to encrypt. If Comey had the ability to understand, at all, then he would understand that protecting our nation would mean pushing for the broadest possible use of secure (and non-backdoored) encryption. If Comey had any commitment to his duties to protect our nation from harm, then he would be screaming for stronger encryption instead of ways to weaken it...at least, that would be true in a world where he understood the topic.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2016 @ 11:43am

    hoping for anything actually productive from this man or nearly anybody involved in that government is a waste of time. no sensible and well-connected person is going to put a foot in that trap.

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

  • icon
    Ben (profile), 31 Aug 2016 @ 11:47am

    So, up until now it has been a childish conversation?

    If he's looking to have an "adult" conversation (and not the prurient kind! get your minds out of the gutter!) then the conversations he's been having have been non-adult, i.e. childish, conversations.

    In order to be an "adult" conversation, both sides need to behave like adults. I'm pretty certain the tech side of the conversation been maintained by adults -- critical thinking, cost/benefit analysis, etc. So that leads me to wonder why Comey should now be considered an "adult" for purposes of the intended conversation.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2016 @ 11:50am

    also, regarding adult conversation . . . don't you think sending him a reasonably life-like sex doll makes some sense? especially if we can find one that murmers back to him whatever he says.

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

  • identicon
    Christenson, 31 Aug 2016 @ 11:53am

    An editing question for Mr Masnick

    Dear Mr Masnick:
    On reading the article, I was struck that you didn't mention EVENTS (like the VW key breach) as another think telling us that backdoored encryption makes everyone less secure....and that backdoors have this strange tendency to show up in public.... HTH

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 31 Aug 2016 @ 12:00pm

    'Adult' in this context meaning 'Agreeing with me'

    It's amazing how he can manage to get through doorways with that swollen head of his.

    It's pretty obvious that he has no interest in any opinion that differs from his own, no interest in evidence that contradicts his opinion because obviously he's already in possession of all the information he needs, and that by 'adult' conversation he means one that agrees with the stance he already has.

    He's dug too deep now to admit just how horrifically wrong he is, his ego just won't allow it, so expect even more of this 'You're wrong, I'm right, and if you were smarter or more mature you'd understand that. Now go play while the adults talk' as time passes.

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

  • icon
    Wyrm (profile), 31 Aug 2016 @ 12:04pm

    Sophistry

    Comey engages in the fallacy of "false middle ground".

    He pretends that between his view that we can safely break encryption for "good guys only" and experts' view that "backdoors will break computer security", there must be a middle ground somewhere, and pretending otherwise is childish.
    He then pretends that he's ready to compromise on his view, provided the experts also compromise with theirs.

    There are two techniques there:
    - the middle ground is a fallacy in itself. It's not a case where the two sides of the argument have equivalent value, so it's not "adult" to compromise here when reality doesn't compromise. Encryption is either reasonably secure (no backdoor, though there can be flaws that we try to close as best as possible) or basically useless (with backdoor that "bad guys" would eventually find and exploit as much as "good guys" would from the start).
    - the other - implicit - lie is that he will compromise on anything. His strategy is basically to make people accept that his view is as valid as the experts', force a discussion about a "compromise", then make people accept his opinion fully when the "compromise" turns out to be impossible. (see previous point) At that point, people will already debate on the assumption that his view is valid, and he will probably use connections and arguments of authority to settle things in his favor.

    In a way, he's right. He wants to settle things the "adult" way: using fallacies, forcing his views on others, manipulating the system. Basic politics. Very adult.
    That's not reasonable, but it's definitely the way adults settle things.

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

  • identicon
    Mark Wing, 31 Aug 2016 @ 12:13pm

    We should absolutely have an adult discussion where we question why the people with the most ignorance of technology are the ones driving public policy.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2016 @ 12:18pm

    Note Comey's main push against encryption is against end-to-end encryption as opposed to inserting backdoors into the actual crypto itself. His push is to mandate tech companies MitM their customer traffic even during the rare times they don't want to.

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

  • identicon
    bob, 31 Aug 2016 @ 12:22pm

    No, the real news story is why did a technology and security focused symposium allowed Comey to speak?

    I thought the point of the convention was helping government agencies better protect themselves, not embarrass themselves.

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

  • identicon
    David, 31 Aug 2016 @ 12:28pm

    You flipping don't understand Comey at all.

    The FBI Director seems to have staked out his reputation on being the guy who will go to his grave refusing to understand what basically every technology expert has been telling him for the past couple of years: his desire to backdoor encryption will make everyone less safe.

    You don't get it, do you? Comey is just doing his job, and his job is "to make everyone more safe" just as much as it is a bank's job "to make everyone more rich". That's just fairy-tale nonsense. Comey's job is routing as much of everyone's safety through his agency's hands as possible, just like a bank tries routing as much of everyone's money through its hand. That gives unilateral power to the nation paying the NSA. The NSA is not there for the universal good, or its funding would look more like that of the UN.

    Of course, while moving communications or money around, a healthy administrative fee is taken. Backdoorless public key encryption, a means to provide safe communications outside of the NSA's control, is about as attractive to the NSA and Comey as Bitcoin as a means to move money around is for banks.

    Comey is not paid for making everyone safer. He and the entire NSA is paid for making U.S. citizens safer than others. To achieve this differentiation, he needs tools and control that safe encryption is incompatible with.

    Once he serves the world as well as the U.S., the U.S. has no reason to write him a paycheck.

    So what if he makes everyone less safe as long as the toll (in safety, not money) on the U.S. citizens is less than on everybody else? He is paid to let the U.S. come out ahead. And if that means shooting its feet, as long as more bullets hit others that mission is accomplished.

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

  • icon
    Norahc (profile), 31 Aug 2016 @ 12:48pm

    Third Party Doctrine

    Would we even be having this discussion if it wasn't for the Third Party Doctrine? After all what he claims he wants is the ability to serve a court order on a third party to order them to decrypt info. All so law enforcement won't have to serve the court order on the guilty...I mean suspect...I mean subject of their investigation which would trigger Constitutional protections.

    Seems like this is all about making the Constitution less of an impediment to the government. Maybe it's about time we got rid of the Third Party Doctrine, which try as I might, I can't find anywhere in the Constitution.

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

    • icon
      afn29129 (profile), 31 Aug 2016 @ 1:10pm

      Re: Third Party Doctrine

      And this is why anyone who is serious about having private telecommunications will use their own encryption before any third party gets their hands on it.

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

  • icon
    David Poole (profile), 31 Aug 2016 @ 3:17pm

    t-shirt idea

    Related to the "Copying is Not Theft" t-shirt, could we get a "Math is Not a Crime" t-shirt? Might stir up less controversy than the "Copying" t-shirt, unfortunately.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2016 @ 3:24pm

    I propose a challenge...

    If Comey can give us one! - just ONE single expert who is willing to tell us that he has got the solution then we can all have a serious sitdown... where we will very likely point out the 1000's of ways that experts "solution" will not work.
    This is not about not wanting to do anything about a problem, this is about such an unsolvable problem that there isn't even a serious proposal on the table on how this could be done simply because some of the worlds most powerful organizations can't find a single knowledgeable person to agree with them.
    Don't think that experts who found this solution wouldn't come forward because that would be one mighty achievement on par with proving that god exists.

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

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 31 Aug 2016 @ 3:33pm

    Adult Conversation

    When I was a kid, I was told to be silent while the adults talked. This was a RULE: children were to be seen and not heard

    So when he says "adult conversation" he means all the kids (which includes experts, naughty little back-talkers that they are) shall shut up and let him talk...

    ...because he is the only adult in the room. "Or else!"

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

  • identicon
    Whatever, 31 Aug 2016 @ 6:03pm

    Comey is being the adult here. It's the Techdirties being filthy lawbreakers, which is why they want to paint authority as the bad guy here.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2016 @ 8:17pm

    Boring

    Adult conversations are boring. Real estate, investments, the stock market, oil prices, SUVs, kids, blah blah blah. Adults have boring conversations and it always causes me to tune out and find something more interesting to listen to.

    Ah crap... that's Comey's plan, isn't it?

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

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 31 Aug 2016 @ 8:56pm

    But Comey is pot committed on his belief...

    I am unable to figure out this typo.

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

  • identicon
    bshock, 31 Aug 2016 @ 9:51pm

    Listen to the code words

    In politics, "Adult Conversation" is a well-known code phrase for "We've got more guns than you do, so you're going to do what we say without any backtalk."

    Because adults are mature enough to realize with quiet resignation that it's difficult to enjoy even the illusion of a free society after you've been brutally murdered by an massively powerful government.

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

  • identicon
    Neil Harding, 31 Aug 2016 @ 10:59pm

    Clinton

    Perhaps if Hillary Clinton and the DNC had used encryption there wouldn't be quite as many email leaks. Terrorists have used regular SMS messages to coordinates attacks, absolutely no encryption there.

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

  • identicon
    spodula, 1 Sep 2016 @ 12:21am

    I see the old Dilbert observation about someone senior thinking something is easy (or even possible) because they dont understand said thing is still a thing in the 21st century..

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

  • identicon
    Digitari, 1 Sep 2016 @ 5:19am

    Drugs are bad MMMk?

    This is the 60's children coming of age, those flasbacks must be fierce indeed.......

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Sep 2016 @ 8:38am

    How about he try this suggestion?

    Since he's so concerned about going dark, how about the FBI, NSA, etc. all turn on their own lights. They should all put backdoors into their own encryption and give the golden key to the public so we can see what they are doing. Show us just how good this backdoor stuff really is and how it can be done right. After all, if they're not doing anything wrong, they have nothing to hide from us right? Right?

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


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