from the and-just-a-couple-of-backdoors,-maybe-FOR-SAFETY! dept
Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance may not know what the fuck he’s talking about when he discusses encryption, the internet and other tech-related issues. But that’s certainly not going to keep him from talking about them.
A just-published “white paper” from the Manhattan DA’s office (h/t Matthew Green) offers up all sorts of stupidity in its attempt to justify anti-encryption legislation.
It starts with lofty ideals…
This Report is intended to:
1) Summarize the smartphone encryption debate for those unfamiliar with the issue;
2) Explain the importance of evidence stored on smartphones to public safety;
3) Dispel certain misconceptions that many privacy advocates hold about law enforcement’s position related to encryption, including the myth that we support a “backdoor” or government-held “key;”
4) Encourage an open discussion with technology companies, privacy advocates, and lawmakers; and
5) Propose a solution that protects privacy and safety.
… before throwing most of these out completely, starting with the “open discussion” with the affected stakeholders.
Vance’s office doesn’t want to burden the nation’s tech companies with “golden keys” or “good guy-only” backdoors. The paper admits such a “solution” would be complicated and expensive. (But not impossible, notably.)
His solution? Something that doesn’t burden tech companies, but simply leaves their customers unprotected. No backdoors will be needed because there will be nowhere to install one.
The federal legislation would provide in substance that any smartphone manufactured, leased, or sold in the U.S. must be able to be unlocked, or its data accessed, by the operating system designer. Compliance with such a statute would not require new technology or costly adjustments. It would require, simply, that designers and makers of operating systems not design or build them to be impregnable to lawful governmental searches.
That’s the big idea: a ban on encryption, presented disingenously as “Not A Ban.” For all the paper’s supposed “discussion” of the issues and contemplation of concerns expressed by companies and their customers, this is the DA’s office’s brilliant cure-all: federal legislation that would prevent companies from deploying encryption — at least not without holding onto a set of keys for government use.
Offered in support of these arguments are the horrendous laws being contemplated/passed in other countries like the UK and France. If they can do it, we can do it! Vance’s office argues any resulting harm to human rights civil liberties will be minimal. Undiscussed is the resulting harm to innocent users whose phones’ contents are no longer encrypted.
The paper also discusses various workarounds that have been suggested, like accessing the unencrypted contents of cloud storage services connected to users’ phones. The DA’s office says that just isn’t good enough. For one thing, not every user utilizes the cloud services offered by Google and Apple. The office’s argument against seeking other routes to communications and data is astoundingly terrible.
[S]martphone users are not required to set up a cloud account or back up to the cloud, and therefore, many device users will not have data stored in the cloud. Even minimally sophisticated wrongdoers who use their devices to perpetrate crimes and who have cloud accounts will likely take the relatively simple steps necessary to avoid backing up those devices, or data of interest, to the cloud. In most instances, only one or two selections must be made in the device’s settings to turn off the back-up function or to remove certain types of content from the back up.
There’s a huge problem with this paragraph. It makes the assertion that criminals are more likely to avoid utilizing cloud backup services while simultaneously noting that this process is entirely optional and will not be used by most people. Using this logic, an average user may also be a “minimally sophisticated wrongdoer,” at least as far as law enforcement can tell from what it finds stored in the cloud.
The underlying point is that lots of data and communications still reside within the phone itself and law enforcement will not be able to access this without Apple or Google leaving a door open for it.
The office does further damage to its own arguments for banning encryption by highlighting a string of successful prosecutions utilizing evidence recovered from cell phones. It uses this list to highlight the amount of “probative evidence” obtained from cell phones while simultaneously (and inadvertently) pointing out that law enforcement really hasn’t been stymied by encryption, despite Vance’s FUD-filled imaginations to the contrary.
And, finally, let’s take a look at one more bogus analogy made by Vance’s office, in which he tries to equate phones with houses.
The Fourth Amendment dictates that search warrants may be issued only when a judge finds probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed and that evidence or proceeds of the crime might be found on the device to be searched. The warrant requirement has been described by the Supreme Court as “[t]he bulwark of Fourth Amendment protection,” and there is no reason to believe that it cannot continue to serve in that role, whether the object that is to be searched is an iPhone or a home.
In fact, what makes full-disk encryption schemes remarkable is that they provide greater protection to one’s phone than one has in one’s home, which, of course, has always been afforded the highest level of privacy protection by courts. Apple and Google should not be able to alter this constitutional balance unilaterally. Every home can be entered with a search warrant. The same should be true of devices.
A more honest analogy would compare phones to computers, which is basically what they are. While a warrant may give cops access to someone’s computer — allowing them to seize it — it does not guarantee they’ll be able to access its contents. Vance wants to compare opening a phone to opening a door, but it’s not a true comparison. If people could make their houses as impregnable as their phones and computers, some very likely would — and not just the theoretical “minimally sophisticated criminals.” A house that cops can’t get into is a house criminals can’t get into. But there’s no way to encrypt a door or window.
The paper tries to portray this as somehow making phones more private than houses in terms of the Fourth Amendment. But encrypted phones have nothing to do with a heightened expectation of privacy. Encryption makes phones more secure than houses, not more private than houses. The Fourth Amendment considerations aren’t being shifted. It’s only the level of instant access that’s being changed. Vance’s office — being part of the law enforcement community — should welcome efforts that make citizens more secure. Instead, all it’s doing is bitching loudly and disingenously about all the power it imagines encryption will strip away from it.
Filed Under: backdoors, cyrus vance, encryption, encryption backdoors, going dark, ny