Deputy AG Claims There's No Market For Better Security While Complaining About Encryption At A Cybercrime Conference

from the an-actual-thing-that-happened dept

The FBI still hasn't updated its bogus "uncrackable phones" total yet, but that isn't stopping the DOJ from continuing its push for holes in encryption. Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein visited Georgetown University to give a keynote speech at its Cybercrime 2020 Conference. In it, Rosenstein again expressed his belief that tech companies are to blame for the exaggerated woes of law enforcement.

Pedophiles teach each other how to evade detection on darknet message boards. Gangs plan murders using social media apps. And extortionists deliver their demands via email. So, it is important for those of us in law enforcement to raise the alarm and put the public on notice about technological barriers to obtaining electronic evidence.

One example of such a barrier is “warrant-proof” encryption, where tech companies design their products or services in such a way that they claim it is impossible for them to assist in the execution of a court-authorized warrant. These barriers are having a dramatic impact on our cases, to the significant detriment of public safety. Technology makers share a duty to comply with the law and to support public safety, not just user privacy.

Rosenstein says this has resulted in a "significant detriment [to] public safety," but can't point to any data or evidence to back that claim up. The FBI's count of devices it can't access is off by at least a few thousand devices, by most people's estimates. In terms of this number alone, the "public safety" problem is, at best, only half as bad as the DOJ has led us to believe.

Going beyond that, crime rates remain at historic lows in most places in the country, strongly suggesting no crime wave has been touched off by the advent of default encryption. Law enforcement agencies aren't complaining about cases they haven't cleared -- if you exclude encryption alarmist/Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance. (Anyone hoping to have an honest conversation about encryption certainly should.)

Somehow, Rosenstein believes the public would experience a net safety gain by making their devices and personal info more easily accessed by criminals. Holes in encryption can be marked "law enforcement only," much like private property owners can hang "no trespassing" signs. But neither is actually a deterrent to determined criminals.

Rosenstein goes on to tout "responsible encryption" -- a fairy tale he created that revolves around the premise tech companies can break/unbreak encryption at the drop of a warrant. But broken encryption can't be unbroken, not even with some form of key escrow. The attack vector may change, but it still exists.

That Rosenstein is advocating inferior encryption during a cybercrime conference speaks volumes about what the DOJ actually considers to be worth protecting. It's not businesses and their customers. It's law enforcement's access. He spends half the run time talking about security breaches involving tech companies and follows it up by suggesting they take less care securing all this info they collect.

He even goes so far as to claim better security is something customers don't want and is bad for tech companies' bottom lines.

Building secure devices requires additional testing and validation—which slows production times — and costs more money. Moreover, enhanced security can sometimes result in less user-friendly products. It is inconvenient to type your zip code when you use a credit card at the gas station, or type a password into your smartphone.

Creating more secure devices risks building a product that will be later to market, costlier, and harder to use. That is a fundamental misalignment of economic incentives and security.

The implicit statement Rosenstein's making is that ramped-up security -- including default encryption -- is nothing more than companies screwing shareholders just so they can stick it to The Man. Following this bizarre line of thought is to buy into Rosenstein's conspiracy theory: one that views tech companies as a powerful cabal capable of rendering US law enforcement impotent.

And as much as Rosenstein hammers tech companies for security breaches that have exposed the wealth of personal data they collect, he ignores the question his encryption backdoor/side door advocacy raises. This question was posed in an excellent post by Cathy Gellis at the beginning of this year:

"What is a company to do if it suffers a data breach and the only thing compromised is the encryption key it was holding onto?"

We're headed into 2019 and no one in the DOJ or FBI is willing to honestly discuss the side effects of their proposals. Rosenstein clings to his "responsible encryption" myth and the director of the FBI wants to do nothing more than make it the problem of "smart people" at tech companies he's seeking to bend to his will. No one in the government wants to take responsibility for the adverse outcomes of weakened encryption, but they're more than willing to blame everyone else any time their access to evidence seems threatened.

Rosenstein's unwavering stance on the issue makes this statement, made at the closing of his remarks, ring super-hollow.

We should not let ideology or dogma stand in the way of constructive academic engagement.

Fair enough, Rod. You go first.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: backdoors, blame, doj, encryption, fbi, going dark, responsible encryption, rod rosenstein

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. identicon
    Christenson, 30 Nov 2018 @ 9:44am

    But (white-collar and cyber-) crime is at historic highs

    At least, I have that impression...from the appointment of Mr Whitaker as acting AG, from the rapid approach of Mr Mueller to "Person 1".

    Too bad I have no numbers, except that IRS enforcement funding is at historic lows.

    And I am a data-driven arguments guy! lol

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
Special Affiliate Offer

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

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it

Email This

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