UK Home Secretary Calls Tech Leaders 'Patronizing' For Refusing To Believe Her 'Safe Backdoors' Spiels

from the if-you-don't-want-to-be-treated-like-a-petulant-child... dept

It appears we're headed towards some sort of encryption showdown in the UK. The only question is: what sort of weapons will everyone be bringing to the brawl?

Home Secretary Amber Rudd is giving off the vibe the UK government may soon be wielding mandates and legislation, if not literal slings and arrows. The more Rudd (and other top UK politicians) argue for encryption backdoors they insist aren't backdoors, the more they're running into opposition from those expected to create the backdoors.

Rudd's finding out ignorance isn't bliss.

Asked by an audience member if she understood how end-to-end encryption actually worked, she said: "It's so easy to be patronised in this business. We will do our best to understand it.

"We will take advice from other people but I do feel that there is a sea of criticism for any of us who try and legislate in new areas, who will automatically be sneered at and laughed at for not getting it right."

She added: "I don't need to understand how encryption works to understand how it's helping - end-to-end encryption - the criminals.

"I will engage with the security services to find the best way to combat that."

To be sure, Rudd is taking additional criticism. But it's not for her ignorance. It's for her obstinance. Her ignorance of encryption fundamentals allows her to continue claiming there's such a thing as a secure backdoor. She may understand what end-to-end encryption means, but insists it can be subverted without destroying it.

Understandably, tech companies have attempted to set the record straight repeatedly, using actual facts. That's what Rudd views as "patronising." Facts. And people who do understand encryption attempting to explain the facts to someone who views facts as inconvenient barriers to lawful access.

Rudd does know this: terrorists are using encrypted apps to communicate. What's not being considered is the security of millions of non-terrorists using the same encrypted apps. So, she's obviously frustrated and lashing out at those companies she views as taking the side of terrorists.

But what she wants are things tech companies can't provide without sacrificing the security of millions of non-terrorists..

She insisted she does not want "back doors" installed in encryption codes, something the industry has warned will weaken security for all users, nor did she want to ban encryption, just to allow easier access by police and the security services.

If she's angry, the tech companies she refuses to listen to are just as fed up. That's when the snark kicks in: when all other more reasonable lines of communication have been ignored.

At this point, it's gone beyond simple facts and science. The war on encryption has shifted to a religious crusade.

She told the meeting Silicon Valley had a "moral" obligation to do more to help the fight against crime and terrorism.

Counterpoint: the government has lots of moral obligations as well, but seldom lives up to those. But beyond that, no company has a "moral" obligation to cave to government demands for weakened user security. Companies are doing what they can to assist law enforcement and are heavily engaged in moderating content uploaded to their platforms. Insisting this is a "moral" issue warps the conversation, taking it past a discussion of what is or isn't possible and into the realm of wonders and miracles.

If Rudd doesn't like being talked down to by tech leaders, perhaps she should start listening to what they're saying. More importantly, she needs to start accepting their answers.

Reader Comments

The First Word

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  1. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 5 Oct 2017 @ 4:32pm


    'The encryption that criminals and terrorists can use to hide their activity is the very encryption that protects the personal and private data of members of the public from criminals and terrorists, similar to how the ability to hold a private conversation can be used to plan a crime or hold a personal conversation that you don't want people to listen in to for reasons that have nothing to do with the legality of the topic.

    Undermining encryption use by terrorists is undermining encryption used by the public, and with vastly more people in the latter category than the former, the public will suffer far more than any terrorist by such a drastic attack on safety and security.'

    Or the tl;dr version:

    'Politicians who are calling for 'back-doors' in encryption, or anything along those lines, are politicians calling for the undermining of public privacy and security, and claiming that they are doing so in order to protect privacy and security. They are either lying and/or willfully ignorant in their attempts to do so and should be soundly mocked for putting forth such dangerous ideas and their demands refused.'

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