Attorney General Barr's Anti-Encryption Efforts Aren't Supported By Many FBI Officials

from the going-to-war-with-the-one-many-army-you-have dept

When Attorney General William Barr speaks, he represents the DOJ and all the agencies it oversees. The problem is that Bill Barr's recent anti-encryption agitating doesn't reflect the views of the people he oversees. While Barr is trying to turn the public against Apple by suggesting it protects terrorists and murderers, FBI employees are worried his words and actions will harm them more than help them.

The Wall Street Journal spoke to people in the FBI and DOJ who aren't convinced Barr's doing the right thing by taking a hardline stance on encryption. [Non-paywalled version here.]

Some senior FBI officials say privately they are worried that Mr. Barr’s sharp tone could undermine relationships with technology companies they have worked hard to develop, people familiar with the matter said.

The bureau relies on close partnerships with tech firms in a range of investigations, with companies complying with legal requests for data and troubleshooting technical obstacles that agents may struggle with, current and former officials said.

Pushing Apple is unproductive. It damages relationships while gaining absolutely nothing for the DOJ and FBI. Apple has already given the FBI all the information it can pull from the Pensacola shooters' accounts. Breaking encryption simply isn't an option -- not when it leads directly to reduced security for the rest of Apple's customers.

Many in the FBI realize this. Barr just doesn't seem to care. If Barr continues to push his anti-encryption agenda, he not only risks reducing cooperation from tech companies but also the trust of the people who work for him. Barr says Apple's not doing enough to help investigations. Internally, the FBI disagrees.

Some FBI officials were stunned by Mr. Barr’s rebuke of Apple, the people familiar with the matter said, and believe the Pensacola case is the wrong one to press in the encryption fight, in part because they believed Apple had already provided ample assistance to the probe.

Barr's ultimate goal may be another courtroom showdown. Others in the FBI would prefer precedent to outside help from phone-cracking companies. Barr has aligned himself with those officials. But the ones pushing for precedent seem unaware of how much collateral damage the FBI itself might suffer if things don't work out the way Barr wants them to.

[Former DHS Secretary Michael] Chertoff said a court ruling against the Justice Department could limit access to widely available forensic tools that allow investigators to get into phones in some situations, for instance. “It’s not clear to me why this fight is advantageous to anybody,” he said.

Barr and those like them so firmly believe they're in the right, they're seemingly incapable of considering the negative consequences of their actions. Precedent that safeguards people's phones against encryption-breaking efforts works against the government, restricting its access to outside assistance. But even if the FBI gets the precedent it wants, the nation as a whole will be less secure because encryption will be compromised severely and permanently. Barr and his anti-encryption buddies are willing to sacrifice everyone else's security for their own ends. That's not just selfish. It's also dangerous.

Filed Under: doj, encryption, fbi, going dark, william barr
Companies: apple


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  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 23 Jan 2020 @ 9:32am

    Power...absolutely

    What we see as dangerous, Barr and his cronies see as advantage. When working to suppress rights and gain more control, dangerousness to the proletariat is of no concern to those with power cravings. We should be more worried about how to undue the damage Barr et al are inflicting, regardless of who wins the next elections.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Jan 2020 @ 10:05am

    perhaps Barr needs to emigrate to Turkey. seems with his attitude, he'd drop in quite nicely with the same thinking that Erdigan has!

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 23 Jan 2020 @ 10:17am

    Kinda late to be worrying about burning that bridge...

    Some senior FBI officials say privately they are worried that Mr. Barr’s sharp tone could undermine relationships with technology companies they have worked hard to develop, people familiar with the matter said.

    Given Apple is yet again being maligned and dragged through the mud because they have the utter gall to think that the DOJ does not run the company I'm pretty sure that that damage has already been done, and at this point it's only increasing.

    Apple and the other companies watching are seeing quite clearly just how the likes of the DOJ think of them and how 'grateful' they are for past help, so they'd have to be utter fools to trust them at this point or do more than they absolutely have to, knowing that any assistance can and likely will be used against them in the future.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Jan 2020 @ 1:45pm

      Re: Kinda late to be worrying about burning that bridge...

      Well, we've all had to get along with a third party and roll eyes together at our boss' retarded behaviour, haven't we?

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 25 Jan 2020 @ 9:05pm

        Re: Re: Kinda late to be worrying about burning that bridge...

        You know if no one committed any crime, these people would be out of work. Let's put them out of work!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Hero, 23 Jan 2020 @ 10:26am

    Pushing Apple is unproductive.

    Reuters published an article that Mike Masnick mentioned on TechDirt two days ago.

    The article claimed that Apple chose not to use end-to-end encryption on iCloud backups so that law enforcement could access that data.

    You don't have to weaken encryption. You just have to tell companies not to use it. Pushing Apple seems to have worked out quite well.

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 23 Jan 2020 @ 10:34am

      '... After how you repaid us for our help the LAST time?'

      You don't have to weaken encryption. You just have to tell companies not to use it. Pushing Apple seems to have worked out quite well.

      'For how long though?' is the question. Apple may have been willing to cave on that, but with how they're being treated now, with claims that they aren't willing to work with law enforcement despite the facts to the contrary, how willing are they going to be the next time the DOJ or another agency 'asks' them to do something similar?

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Hero, 23 Jan 2020 @ 11:15am

        Re: '... After how you repaid us for our help the LAST time?'

        Who knows. The cynic in me thinks Apple is more concerned about bad PR from articles like the one Reuters published than they are about having lax security in iCloud.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 25 Jan 2020 @ 9:10pm

          Re: Re: '... After how you repaid us for our help the LAST time?

          Now that apple has bent all the way over for law enforcement and back doors open and stuff, apple keeps trying to push updates in my phone which I have shut down.. I'm like saying to myself, "Yeah, right!"

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 25 Jan 2020 @ 9:12pm

            Re: Re: Re: '... After how you repaid us for our help the LAST t

            How can we possiby trust, remember etrust? How can we possibly trust corporations who get bent by government we don't trust?

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

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 25 Jan 2020 @ 9:15pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: '... After how you repaid us for our help the LA

              The thought of having some snot nose government dweeb driving around with his laptop on his lap crawling through a town's collective harddrive just creeps me out.

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

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 25 Jan 2020 @ 9:18pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: '... After how you repaid us for our help th

                I want to have this conversation. Where's Masnick? Bhull, Uriel238, Scary devil Mon and Stone?

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

                • identicon
                  Anonymous Coward, 25 Jan 2020 @ 9:19pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: '... After how you repaid us for our hel

                  And ZOF?

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

                  • identicon
                    Bingo, 28 Jan 2020 @ 2:17am

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: '... After how you repaid us for our

                    With one exception, that AC pegged nearly every time sucking inhouse TD troll.

                    SDM actually makes sense, tho, and provides useful and insightful commentary.

                    But I still dont see why Zof gets flagged here.

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

                • icon
                  bhull242 (profile), 26 Jan 2020 @ 5:23pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: '... After how you repaid us for our hel

                  I don’t really have much to say. I could say that not updating your phone could create a security risk for you, but I mostly agree with just about everything you’re saying.

                  (FTR, I don’t update my phone very often either, but that’s just because I rarely have room on my phone to download the update, so I don’t really have any choice in the matter.)

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

                  • identicon
                    Anonymous Coward, 12 Feb 2020 @ 11:55am

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: '... After how you repaid us for our

                    re: "I do not think that our military members appreciate being used as mercenaries"

                    I agree with you on this, bhull.

                    And also when you said " I don’t really have much to say"

                    Keep up the insightfulness!

                    (hitting "like" button now.)

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

    • icon
      James Burkhardt (profile), 23 Jan 2020 @ 10:54am

      Re:

      The article hear talks about pushing apple harming existing relationships.

      Those existing relationships include Apple choosing to not fully encrypt iCloud backups in part due to law enforcement's request. I have seen no evidence that the customer-service reasons also described in coverage of the decision weren't also a factor.

      I would assert that moving to a fully-encrypted backup solution was scrapped because of a combination of customer service issues (all those people who forget their passwords and can't access their backups apple can no longer help) and law enforcement's requests (or complaints, depending). This functions as part of the positive relationship law enforcement cultivates with Apple.

      That is much different from getting a court order demanding Apple change their product, particularly in a way that opens apple back up to claims of security negligence they always get in the wake of data thefts. That court order isn't building a working relationship, and likely would hurt future attempts to get Apple to assist in investigations without a court order.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 25 Jan 2020 @ 9:37pm

      Re:

      Anyone who caves to a very large union that protects highway robbers and noknock sons a bitches and cops being indicted across the country for a slough of crimes would have to be concerned what its going to do to their bottom line.

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

  • icon
    Norahc (profile), 23 Jan 2020 @ 11:52am

    The higher up in government you go, the less they know what they are talking about, and the less they care if they are right or wrong just so long as they get their way.

    Personally, I've seen 4 year olds with better reasoning skills than most senior government officials.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Jan 2020 @ 8:20am

      Re:

      "I've seen 4 year olds with better reasoning skills than most senior government officials."

      let's not forget the screwups in industry.

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

  • icon
    ArkieGuy (profile), 23 Jan 2020 @ 12:06pm

    Apple needs to pull a Google....

    Sounds to me like Apple needs to do to the US Government what Google did to German News sites. Simply give them what they ask for and a little more - turn off all encryption for US Government phones. :)

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 23 Jan 2020 @ 12:22pm

      Re: Apple needs to pull a Google....

      'After hearing the arguments for the two-hundredth time we have decided that the DOJ has a point in arguing that encryption only helps criminals, and will be removing it henceforth from our products. However, as a large change like that could have significant unforeseen consequences we have decided to do it in stages, starting with all devices owned by US government employees or agencies. If after several months there are no significant issues we will look into rolling the change out to the general public.'

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

      • icon
        Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 23 Jan 2020 @ 12:30pm

        Re: Re: Apple needs to pull a Google....

        If only Apple had a way to be that specific, it would be most satisfying, not to mention entertaining.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 23 Jan 2020 @ 12:40pm

          Re: Re: Re: Apple needs to pull a Google....

          It would demonstrate to the government that Apple can be selective enough to comply with a law that mandates encryption for government phones, and no encryption for anybody else. There such a demo would be Apple cutting its own throat.

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 23 Jan 2020 @ 12:26pm

    I tend to laugh..

    HOw many phones that Have been cracked have had any info that led to other arrests?
    None that Iv heard of.

    So lets say 1% of the world is a terrorist.
    All these groups would need to monitor 100%, to find the 1%, and then the number of 1% would be HUGE..
    Lets try abit of reality, and say .001% are terrorists..and still you need to find them.
    Lets say they have to Only look for terrorists and not collect other Incriminating DATA..

    Does anyone have numbers on ALL the data they have collected monitoring the internet?? And how many sorting threw all the crap?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 25 Jan 2020 @ 9:25pm

      Re: I tend to laugh..

      The gov has massive harddrives for analysing data. Every little red flag they pull off on the masses goes into these massive computers analysing every twitch they get from the public.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Jan 2020 @ 1:42pm

    Most of the present administration's efforts are not supported by many of the public.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Jan 2020 @ 7:16am

    Unintended consequences

    "Some senior FBI officials say privately they are worried that Mr. Barr’s sharp tone could undermine relationships with technology companies"

    Bravo, for somebody starting to think, however, this doesn't go far enough.

    Apple (or any corporation) is not a monolithic single entity. Loosely, a corporation is merely a lawful conspiracy. The people running the corporation issue orders to their subordinates, and those orders work their way down the command chain. Ultimately, the actual work is carried out by intelligent and hard working people, many of them technical. The better and best of these people can find another job, often easily. Apple management is caught between a rock and a hard place. If Apple stands firm, then arrogant clueless government officials get snitty, which is difficult. On the other hand if Apple caves, then the better and best of the people who design, build, program and manufacture Apple's products reevaluate their presence at Apple, leaving if sufficiently unhappy. Either way Apple management and investors are caught between two fires. This scenario is being currently played out at Google and many military suppliers.

    The FBI and the DOD leadership are apparently clueless regarding their dependency on a large number of people who are progressively less trusting of the government. It is in the cards that in the near future that the only people who will work on government projects are second and third rate technical talent.

    The first raters corrupt enough to live down to the level AG Barr wants, can find a more lucrative job making ransomware. Soon it will be even more profitable to exploit the failings of the government projects, which have no one but inferior technical help.

    Eventually, even the likes of Iran, North Korea will have enough first rate domestic talent to defeat U. S. government systems, designed, programmed and built by second and third raters.

    Therefore, the harder people like AG Barr push Apple, the more the government antagonizes the people who do the real work (corporate management merely relays the nasty). The more the people who do the work are antagonized, the sooner they move to something less unpleasant.

    While this idiocy is currently under President Trump, ex-President Obama did his fair share and Mr. Bloomberg and his liberal peers have publicly claimed policies which duplicate this idiocy. I suggest that a "death spiral" is in the near future.

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

  • identicon
    Dave P., 24 Jan 2020 @ 12:52pm

    Barr has obviously been to the same charm school as the lovely Trump.

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

  • identicon
    Baruch "Golems Lil Helper"Goldstein, 11 Feb 2020 @ 12:21pm

    re: yeah, why disenfranchise a bunch of racists?

    Sure, bad boy Barr wants to undermine that cozy relationship between Israeli CVE fraudsters and online/offline blackmailers and gang stalkers, and the DoJ which depends upon fake CVE outcomes, Barr included, is somehow in a conspiracy of deprivation of racist Israeli rights?

    Yeah, seems legit, AC coward.

    re: worried that Mr. Barr’s sharp tone could undermine relationships with technology companies

    Which companies, AC? Can you name them? It seems those type of companies SHOULD be investigated.

    Israeli spies and double nationals from Talpion Tech, or any of the many Israeli spy outfits operating in Silicon Valley , or opposed to non-Israeli related US interests?

    Its a paradox,that racial/tribal/religious supremacy, huh?

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


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