A few weeks ago, we pointed out that Hillary Clinton had, unfortunately, joined in with other clueless politicians to call for "Silicon Valley" to "develop solutions"
to the "concerns of law enforcement and counterterrorism professionals" on "encryption." Anyone who's followed the "debate" over encryption over the past year knows that asking Silicon Valley to "develop solutions" is James Comey's codewords for "create a backdoor for encryption" -- no matter how many times experts in encryption have explained to him that such a solution makes everyone less safe. After we and a few others wrote about Clinton's unfortunate and dangerous decision to throw her lot in with those who wish to backdoor encryption, one of her main tech advisers, Alec Ross, went a little ballistic
, insisting she did not say what she clearly did say.
And, this weekend Clinton apparently decided to double down and then go even further -- even before President Obama suggested that he'd also support
undermining encryption. First, on ABC's This Week
, she repeated the argument that we just need "the best minds" to "come together"
and "deal" with this issue.
STEPHANOPOULOS: How about Apple? No more encryption?
CLINTON: This is something I've said for a long time, George. I have to believe that the best minds in the private sector, in the public sector could come together to help us deal with this evolving threat. And you know, I know what the argument is from our friends in the industry. I respect that. Nobody wants to be feeling like their privacy is invaded.
But I also know what the argument is on the other side from law enforcement and security professionals. So, please, let's get together and try to figure out the best way forward.
But, again, that's like asking "the best minds" to come up with bullets that only kill bad people. Or books that only nice people are allowed to read. You're asking for an impossibility, and in doing so, you're making everyone less safe by undermining encryption
-- which is the key to realistic computer security.
Even worse, when Clinton claims that she knows "what the argument is from our friends in the industry" she gets their argument wrong
. It's not just about invading privacy. It's about the fact that she's asking for the impossible
. It's not just about protecting the privacy of people from intruding government. It's about not weakening overall systems that will allow those with bad intent to do lots of damage
. It's a ridiculous statement and Clinton appears to be getting just as bad technology advice as basically every other presidential candidate.
And, that wasn't her only ridiculous anti-tech statement on the weekend. She also said that Facebook, YouTube and Twitter should censor bad content online
to somehow stop ISIS.
STEPHANOPOULOS: If you were in the Oval Office tonight, would you be announcing a new strategy?
CLINTON: Well, I think what -- that's what we'll hear from the president, an intensification of the existing strategy and I think there's some additional steps we have to take.
If you look at the story about this woman and maybe the man, too, who got radicalized, self-radicalized, we're going to need help from Facebook and from YouTube and from Twitter. They cannot permit the recruitment and the actual direction of attacks or the celebration of violence by this sophisticated Internet user.
They're going to have to help us take down these announcements and these appeals they get up.
I know that this view is one that many people agree with, but it's equally dangerous. First, it assumes that ISIS propaganda is apparently so powerful that no counter speech could possibly work against it, and thus it must be censored. But that's ridiculous on multiple levels. It overvalues the speech of ISIS and its supporters and the impact that it has (most studies have shown radicalization happens because of people individuals know in real life
, not randos on the internet).
Really, though, exactly how are Facebook and Twitter and YouTube supposed to do this? How are they supposed to review every bit of content that everyone creates, and determine which bits are "good" and allowed and which are "bad" and not allowed? Clinton is asking for a fairy tale -- a world where (1) it's obvious what's good content and what's not and (2) one in which every bit of speech and communication is monitored and scored on such a non-existent scale. Both of these things are impossible. I don't know about you, but I prefer political candidates who focus on the possible, rather than fairy tales (I recognize this leaves me with basically almost no politicians to support, but occupational hazard, I guess...).
In a separate speech, given at the Brookings Institution, Clinton took this idea even further, calling on Silicon Valley to "disrupt ISIS,"
which is such a painful abuse of the term "disrupt" as to again raise questions about who is advising her on tech policy issues:
“We need to put the great disrupters at work at disrupting ISIS."
Disruption in the tech world is about making things cheaper and better, and reinventing markets. It's not about magically stopping bad people from using technology. This is still fairy tale thinking.
But, more importantly, it encourages (or potentially threatens to mandate) that these content and communications platforms have to start proactively monitoring
all speech online, and determining, on the fly, what speech is "good" and which speech is "bad." That's dangerous and will undoubtedly lead to much greater censorship -- including content that actually is useful in highlighting atrocities and dangerous activities online. We've seen this before. After US politicians pressured
YouTube into removing "terrorist" videos, it resulted in videos being deleted
from a Syrian watchdog group that was documenting atrocities
Besides, these two separate issues seem totally contradictory. On the one hand, Clinton and other anti-encryption folks whine about not being able to see what terrorists are saying "because encryption." But then, at the same time, they're saying that when those same people talk about things publicly online -- in a way that's trackable -- we should shut them down.
It's almost like they have no strategy at all... except to try to throw the blame on technology companies.