Deputy Attorney General Asks Congress For $21 Million To Solve The FBI's 'Going Dark' Problem

from the 21-million-buys-a-lot-of-hysteria dept

James Comey may have been unceremoniously dumped by the Commander-in-Chief, but his device encryption legacy lives on.

The Justice Department is requesting more than $20 million in federal funding to bankroll efforts related to resolving the government’s continuing “Going Dark” problem, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said Tuesday, signaling one of the Trump administration’s first attempts at tackling the issue of ubiquitous, hard-to-crack encryption amid growing concerns involving its impact on criminal investigations.

The request came during Rosenstein's testimony before the Appropriations Committee -- the place where all government officials perform their most sincere acts of begging. Not that the FBI was likely to be faced with budget cuts -- not with a "law and order" president running the country and overseen by an Attorney General who appears to believe we're currently engulfed in a massive drug-and-immigrant crimewave.

Here's Rosenstein's full "going dark" budget request:

Department of Justice must continue to take a leading role in enhancing the capabilities of the law enforcement and national security communities. This budget request will provide $21.6 million in funding to counter the “Going Dark” threat. The seriousness of this threat cannot be overstated. “Going Dark” refers to law enforcement’s increasing inability to lawfully access, collect, and intercept real-time communications and stored data, even with a warrant, due to fundamental shifts in communications services and technologies. This phenomenon is severely impairing our ability to conduct investigations and bring criminals to justice. The FBI will use this funding to develop and acquire tools for electronic device analysis, cryptanalytic capability, and forensic tools. The Department’s role has been to collect, house, analyze, and share critical data among our federal, state, local, and tribal partners.

Beg to differ, but the "seriousness of this threat" can be overstated. Comey did so on multiple occasions. Sometimes others -- mainly Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance -- followed suit. Both claimed to have a large number of phones in their possession that couldn't be cracked. Even if the underlying assumption that all of these phones contained valuable evidence directly related to investigations, one still had to wonder how hard investigators were trying to get into these phones. Or how many other options they'd explored before throwing their hands up in frustration and resigning the devices to a dismal future as press conference props.

Take, for instance, this quote from the Washington Times article:

Days before leaving office on May 9, Mr. Comey said federal investigators had legally seized more than 6,000 smartphones and electronic devices during a recent six-month span but found that 46 percent couldn’t be opened “with any technique.”

This stat is almost completely unbelievable. Documents obtained from local law enforcement agencies with much smaller budgets show investigators are finding multiple ways to obtain data and communications from locked phones. We're also not hearing these sentiments echoed by law enforcement officials at the local level. If it's this much of a problem for the FBI -- nearly half of all devices seized -- one would think smaller agencies would be seeing a much higher access failure rate, followed directly by public complaints about device encryption. But we're just not seeing that.

Hopefully whatever's handed to the FBI to solve its apparently singular "going dark" program is put to use wisely. But nothing about the "going dark" hype suggests this will be the case. It may just disappear into some sort of talking points war fund and used to promote the spread of "going dark" hysteria until enough legislators are on the hook. If the money is deployed intelligently, it could actually make a difference for the agency. But all evidence points to the agency angling for legislation and favorable court precedent that will make the rest of us pay the price for the agency's inability or unwillingness to see anything but darkness when confronted with technical hurdles.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Jun 2017 @ 12:18pm

    Must be some expensive light bulbs.

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

  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 21 Jun 2017 @ 12:22pm

    Kind of wonder what's the point of their little show with Quantum cryptography around the corner and quantum entanglement comms possibly just arriving.

    And China takes over the lead....

    https://thespacereporter.com/2017/06/chinas-quantum-satellite-sends-unhackable-signal/

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

    • icon
      JoeCool (profile), 21 Jun 2017 @ 1:01pm

      Re:

      You need to read the fine print...

      Physicists hope that entangled particles could be used to send encrypted information which, due to the nature of “spooky action,” would be impossible to intercept and decode.

      They haven't transferred any info, and if you speak with a reputable scientist, you'll learn they don't even know where to start in trying to transfer info using entangled photons.

      Yes, the idiot reporter states in the first paragraph that info was transferred, but then goes on to contradict that statement later. Look at the citations for more accurate info. Science reporting is often flat out wrong as the reporters are trying to make sensationalized headlines rather than an accurate summary of what actually occurred.

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

      • identicon
        Baron von Robber, 21 Jun 2017 @ 1:55pm

        Re: Re:

        Uh huh.
        "Pan expects China's National Space Science Center to launch additional satellites with stronger and cleaner beams that could be detected even when the sun is shining. (Micius operates only at night.) "In the next 5 years we plan to launch some really practical quantum satellites," he says. In the meantime, he plans to use Micius to distribute quantum keys to Chinese ground stations, which will require longer strings of photons and additional steps. "

        http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/06/china-s-quantum-satellite-achieves-spooky-action-record-dist ance

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

        • icon
          JoeCool (profile), 21 Jun 2017 @ 3:39pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          You're still reading summaries from idiot reporters. That article only says they've been able to determine that they're actually creating entangled photons. There's still NOTHING in the article about transferring info via the entangled photons other than a moronic cartoon image made to an idiot editor to accompany the idiotic article.

          In fact, if you actually READ the article, they're only barely distinguishing the fact that they managed to get SOME entangled photons:

          They found the photons had opposite polarizations far more often than would be expected by chance,

          However, Ling notes that Pan's team recovered only about one photon out of every 6 million sent from the satellite

          Okay, now tell me how the Chinese are on the verge of having a quantum internet in space. Just because they have the word 'science' in their name doesn't mean they know Jack about science. 🙄

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 21 Jun 2017 @ 4:30pm

        Re: Re:

        "would be impossible to intercept and decode."

        Hahahahahaha - omg

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

      • icon
        Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 21 Jun 2017 @ 5:45pm

        Re: Re:

        Physicists hope that entangled particles could be used to send encrypted information which, due to the nature of “spooky action,” would be impossible to intercept and decode.

        Are we sure they didn't mean psychics?

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 22 Jun 2017 @ 10:36am

        Re: Re:

        Information has actually been sent using quantum cryptograpy... and it's been hacked. Because it's secure in theory, but we don't actually have the perfect devices that theory requires.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Jun 2017 @ 12:26pm

    If I believe all the radio and TV ads about Opium overdoses, then yes, we are engulfed in a drug wave.

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

    • identicon
      J.R, 21 Jun 2017 @ 3:28pm

      Re: drug wave

      You have a point, so what is the "honourable" Jeff Sessions going after? Medical marijuana ... what else? And acccording to another article here, the rest of the Trumpy administration wants to ... [drum roll] extend drug patents.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Jun 2017 @ 4:32pm

      Re:

      Do you believe all the tv and radio ads that tell you to ask your doctor?

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

      • icon
        Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 21 Jun 2017 @ 5:53pm

        Re: Re:

        Yeah, but do they actually specify 'what' to ask your doctor?

        Doctor, what is a good tee time for us on Wednesday?

        Doctor, should I eat a lot of red meat and bacon?

        Doctor, is this Oxycontin prescription for pain or pleasure?

        Etc.

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

        • icon
          orbitalinsertion (profile), 21 Jun 2017 @ 10:58pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Or what they suggest to tell your doctor, about medications and conditions. I always wonder what doctor they expect you to see when begging for their drug. It must not be any of your regular doctors, or anyone with access to your medical records or anything. (I suppose if your primary and any specialists all say, christ, no, don't take that drug, you have to keep looking.)

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

  • icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 21 Jun 2017 @ 12:39pm

    The Justice Department is requesting more than $20 million in federal funding to bankroll efforts related to resolving the government’s continuing “Going Dark” problem

    Only $20m for government transparency? Sure, why not, seems like a deal.

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

  • icon
    JoeCool (profile), 21 Jun 2017 @ 12:52pm

    I wonder...

    $21.6 million is an AWFULLY specific number. Makes me wonder if there's a new private jet out that costs "just over" $20M. ;)

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Jun 2017 @ 12:52pm

    $21 Million

    That'll buy them 21 phone hacks @ $1million each.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Jun 2017 @ 12:53pm

    So

    So...
    The ultimate use of digital information is privacy???

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

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 21 Jun 2017 @ 4:02pm

      Re: So

      Old analog and TONS of protections so that they CANT LISTEN TO US...
      OR DIGITAL where a good amount is encoded, in Old programming..

      I HOPE you all understand this..REALLY..
      The old phone system had PROTECTIONS..anything recorded on it was NOT admissible..

      DIGITAL DOES NOT HAVE THE SAME PROTECTIONS..
      SOON INTERNET WONT have ANy protections..
      CELLPHONES DONT HAVE ANY PROTECTION..

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 21 Jun 2017 @ 2:15pm

    Why spend $21 million when $2 will get the job done?

    Given the severity of the 'threat' they should deliver a flashlight to the FBI and tell them that should be plenty. Perhaps include a complementary box of light-bulbs just in case the FBI main offices are 'going dark' and need some illumination as well.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Jun 2017 @ 2:48pm

    Wow, it'll only take $22M to do away with the FBI?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Jun 2017 @ 7:28pm

    FBI: "The phone is locked. Unlock it for us."
    Suspect: "No."
    FBI: "Do it or else!"
    Suspect: "No."
    FBI: "The phone's gone dark! We can't do any investigations now!"

    That's how you get your 46%.

    Obligatory xkcd: https://xkcd.com/538/
    $21.6m buys you 4,320,000 wrenches. No, it's not torture. It's an 'enhanced interrogation technique'.

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

  • identicon
    David, 22 Jun 2017 @ 2:48am

    The FBI's ‘Going Dark’ problem is very real

    The "Freedom of Information Act" tried to stem the tide of the FBI going dark, but frankly its underhanded way of hiding its operation and the consequences on life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of U.S. constituents has a far too long history to be easily overcome.

    Oh, that's not what you were talking about? Pity.

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

  • identicon
    Yes, I know I'm commenting anonymously, 22 Jun 2017 @ 4:03am

    It's a bargain!

    $21.6 million and the FBI can no longer complain about `going dark'(presumably including all complaints relating encryption). It's a bargain!
    But it still is the FBI, either they change the definition of `going dark' or claim they cannot be held to their word.

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

    • identicon
      David, 22 Jun 2017 @ 5:45am

      Re: It's a bargain!

      But it still is the FBI, either they change the definition of `going dark' or claim they cannot be held to their word.

      Since when does the FBI need to amend the story when the facts change? They'll absorb the money and take it as proof that they need more money.

      It's like their curation of "terrorists" proving that they need to do more against terrorism.

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


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