Senate Given The Go-Ahead To Use Encrypted Messaging App Signal

from the feinstein,-burr-will-continue-to-use-AOL-chatrooms dept

Certain senators have repeatedly pushed for encryption bans or encryption backdoors, sacrificing personal security for national security in a move that will definitively result in less of both. Former FBI Director James Comey's incessant beating of his "Going Dark" drum didn't help. Several legislators always managed to get sucked in by his narrative of thousands of unsearched phones presumably being tied to thousands of unsolved crimes and free-roaming criminals.

It will be interesting if the anti-encryption narratives advanced by Sens. Feinstein and Burr (in particular -- although others equally sympathetic) continue now that senators can officially begin using an encrypted messaging system for their own communications.

Without any fanfare, the Senate Sergeant at Arms recently told Senate staffers that Signal, widely considered by security researchers and experts to be the most secure encrypted messaging app, has been approved for use.

The news was revealed in a letter Tuesday by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), a staunch privacy and encryption advocate, who recognized the effort to allow the encrypted messaging app as one of many "important defensive cybersecurity" measures introduced in the chamber.

ZDNet has learned the policy change went into effect in March.

If this isn't the end of CryptoWar 2.0, then it's at least a significant ceasefire. Senators are going to find it very hard to argue against encrypted communications when they're allowed to use encrypted messaging apps. It's not that legislators are above hypocrisy. It's just that they usually allow a certain amount of time to pass before they commence openly-hypocritical activity.

This doesn't mean the rest of the government is allowed to use encrypted chat apps for official communications. Federal agencies fall under a different set of rules -- ones that provide for more comprehensive retention of communications under FOIA law. Congressional communications, however, generally can't be FOIA'ed. It usually takes a backdoor search at federal agencies to cut these loose. So, members of Congress using an encrypted chat app with self-destructing messages may seem like the perfect way to avoid transparency, but it's the law itself that provides most of the opacity.

If encryption's good for the Senate, it's good for the public. There's no other way to spin this. Even Trump's pro-law enforcement enthusiasm is unlikely to be enough to sell Congress on encryption backdoors. With this power in the palm of their hands, they're more apt to see the benefits of leaving encryption un-fucked with.

Filed Under: encryption, end to end encryption, messaging, senate, signal

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 May 2017 @ 7:21pm


    Perhaps it's the case that there could exist an algorithm that can efficiently solve a math problem but that algorithm itself is difficult to solve. Once that algorithm is solved, however, then solving related math problems becomes easy. Maybe there is a way to efficiently factor the multiple of two large prime numbers, for instance, we just don't know how to do it yet.

    But the chances that the government knows how to do it but the public doesn't are pretty low.

    One of the things about cryptography is that no encryption algorithm should be created and used in house without public scrutiny. All algorithms should go through a long period of public scrutiny before being approved for use. Standard algorithms, not non-standard in-house, algorithms are considered safer exactly because they went through a much more thorough testing process that involves a whole lot more very intelligent people before they got approved. It's why the government, IIRC, now uses encryption standards in opposed to stuff that they made in house. Exactly because their in house ciphers later turn out to be garbage.

    Given the fact that the public can much more thoroughly scrutinize a cipher than the small group of people working for the government (and, remember, it's not like the government is composed of the most intelligent meritorious people. They're the government, classic example of lazy people that take your money and don't have the merit to make their own money by actually working. It's the private sector of individuals that are much more intelligent) all it takes is for one person to find a flaw in the cipher, publicly present it, and everyone will know its weakness. Then new ciphers will be worked on. and that's exactly how cryptography advances. Older ciphers become obsolete and get replaced by newer, better, ciphers that don't have the same weaknesses as the older ones. One day AES may also get replaced as weaknesses are found but, in the meantime, it's unlikely that there is a secret esoteric weakness that only our dumb government knows about but the many very smart people that scrutinize these ciphers can't yet figure out.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: Techdirt Logo Gear
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.