Law Enforcement Official Claims Citizens Use Better Encryption Than Cops Do

from the when-you-don't-understand-the-subject-but-think-you-should-offer-an-expert-o dept

Arguing against encryption is a popular law enforcement pastime. The problem is there really aren't many good arguments to be made against the use of encryption, so people like Attorney General Bill Barr and FBI Director Chris Wray have to summon up apocalyptic scenarios or beat down straw men of their own creation to score points for their side.

Given that the anti-encryption side is loaded with disingenuous intentions, it's really no surprise to see statements being made by law enforcement officials that are either stupid or lies… or maybe some combination of both. A recent NPR discussion of calls to end encryption features a real gem from an official representing a Tennessee law enforcement agency.

[NPR Host Martin] KASTE: There's been a lot of media attention lately on the FBI showdowns with Apple about opening iPhones used in terrorism. But those situations are relatively rare, given that the feds often have other ways of getting information. What's more common is that end-to-end encryption is frustrating local law enforcement - people like Cpt. Clay Anderson.

CLAY ANDERSON: It comes into play at least probably once or twice every single week.

KASTE: He supervises investigations for the sheriff's office in Humphreys County, Tenn. They get a lot of cases involving sexual exploitation - predators grooming minors via online messaging.

ANDERSON: In those cases, you run into dead ends because you can't get past encryption. I mean, who needs that type of encryption other than maybe the military with some type of sensitive operation that they're doing? You know, we don't even in law enforcement use encryption like that.

First off, YES, law enforcement uses encryption like that. Do officers carry smartphones? Then they're using "encryption like that." Are the sheriff office's internal communications and on-site databases encrypted? Then they're using "encryption like that." How about the laptops in their vehicles? I sincerely hope those are protected by "encryption like that."

"Encryption like that" apparently refers to encryption law enforcement can't break easily. In other words, encryption law enforcement doesn't have the passwords to. There's no "military-grade" encryption. Either encryption works or it doesn't. It's not a matter of "grades." These words might sound meaningful to people not familiar with encryption, but they're meaningless to anyone with the slightest familiarity with the subject.

"Military grade" meant something nearly 30 years when the government restricted the export of encryption methods that couldn't easily be broken by US agencies. The explosion of consumer products (computers, smartphones) that has occurred since that point has rendered the line between "consumer" and "military-grade" encryption nonexistent.

The military uses the same encryption consumers do. Captain Clay Anderson's parroting of Bill Barr's idiotic talking points suggesting device manufacturers start using a dumbed-down encryption method for consumer electronics is just that: idiotic. To compromise encryption millions of consumers use would also compromise the encryption the government (home of "military-grade") uses, as Bruce Schneier points out.

The thing is, that distinction between military and consumer products largely doesn't exist. All of those "consumer products" Barr wants access to are used by government officials -- heads of state, legislators, judges, military commanders and everyone else -- worldwide. They're used by election officials, police at all levels, nuclear power plant operators, CEOs and human rights activists. They're critical to national security as well as personal security.

Hopefully, Captain Anderson is just ignorant. Hopefully his officers and his department are making full use of "encryption like that." To do otherwise would be irresponsible. Or maybe Anderson is just upset he can't get all the evidence he needs by sitting at his desk. He doesn't really seem to be the best choice for investigating crimes against children.

In early September 2012, Jackie Little went to investigators with the Humphreys County Sheriff’s Office to report that she had been raped by three men.

In recorded video of her interview, Sheriff Chris Davis can be heard vowing to investigate while sitting in a room with the detective assigned to the case, Clay Anderson.

“If they’ve done this to you, we’re going prosecute them. We’re going to prosecute them wide open,” Davis said.

But our investigation found Anderson never even attempted to gather DNA evidence, didn’t seek out one piece of potential video and interviewed the three suspects several months after the rape was reported.

Anderson was twice recommended for termination by other law enforcement agencies, but resigned before termination could occur, leaving him free to join this department and add his, um, "skills" to their investigatory unit. Now, he's the regional face of "going dark" and his arguments are proving to be just as questionable as his law enforcement career.

Filed Under: clay anderson, encryption, law enforcement


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Feb 2020 @ 4:20am

    Typo

    "The problem is there really aren't many good arguments to be made against the use of encryption..."

    The problem is there really aren't any good arguments to be made against the use of encryption.

    Fixed!


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