FBI: Bring Us A Unicorn. Techies: They Don't Exist. Senator: Stop Complaining & Tell Us Where The Unicorn Is
from the wait...-what? dept
We’ve already discussed the ridiculousness of yesterday’s Senate hearings with Jim Comey on “going dark” and the desire to backdoor encryption. But one thing that came out in the discussions that deserves further scrutiny is the fact that Comey repeatedly admitted that he had no proposed solution to the question of how to do this. He admits that computer scientists say it’s not possible, but he insists it’s because they’re “not trying hard enough” to figure it out. And whenever Senators suggested different possible legislative fixes, Comey would sort of throw up his hands and say “well, we’re not making any proposals here, we just want a conversation.”
And there’s a good reason for this, which was actually admitted after the hearings by former NSA top lawyer (and proud Techdirt disliker) Stewart Baker (who recently argued that Blackberry failed because it had too much encryption) when he went on PBS Newshour to say that the government won’t put forth a proposal, knowing that it will immediately get shot full of holes by actual experts.
SUSAN LANDAU: The issue is that the government is saying exceptional access, without explaining how they want this done, and all security matters in the details.
And, immediately, Baker shoots back the admission that no one else has been willing to make that, of course the government won’t come up with a plan, because then all the experts can give details for why that plan would be a disaster:
STEWART BAKER: So, I think one of the things that’s clear is the government isn?t trying to say this is exactly how we want you to do it, because I?m sure that Susan Landau would be saying, well, that won?t work and we have got these objections to being told how to do it.
The amazing thing is that Baker doesn’t even seem to realize what he’s admitting, as he then immediately shifts to saying that the government just wants the industry to solve this problem. But the whole point is that there is no solution that doesn’t make lots of other things much worse.
The fact that the government refuses to put forth any solution should be seen as a massive problem. But, incredibly, during the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing yesterday, Senator Barbara Mikulski blamed privacy advocates for not offering up a solution to the impossible (starting around the 58 minute mark).
In our briefing materials I read letters from the ACLU, whose views we so value, the Software Alliance, and I saw a lot of criticism of what we’re pursuing here for some type of opportunity to not go dark. But I didn’t see any solutions. I saw a lot of criticisms. I saw a lot of critiques. But I didn’t see solutions. Now I believe, as Senator Heinrich said and others, we have tremendous technical know-how, and I believe that the people in Silicon Valley are indeed very patriotic people, and they don’t want drug dealers and international traffickers and child pornographers to be able to get away with nefarious things. So, if we could perhaps actually get from those as well as the civil liberties community how we could start working to a solution that would actually be great.
This is the point at which you should be banging your head on whatever wall or desk is closest. All of those patriotic folks in Silicon Valley have been going into great detail about how there is no good way to backdoor encryption, highlighting many explanations of how it actually makes online security much, much worse. To then say that the people pointing out how there are no good solutions should be the ones responsible for offering up a solution, rather than the government, which is insisting that something must be done, is ridiculous.
It takes quite an incredible train of thought to argue that the people telling you that magic fairy dust doesn’t exist need to be the ones to tell you how to make magic fairy dust, rather than the naive folks who believe in magic fairy dust. And yet, that’s exactly what Senator Mikulski did. And that’s because, as Stewart Baker rightfully points out, if the government actually produced a plan for magic fairy dust, actual experts would quickly point out that it’s not magical fairy dust, and actually makes people ill.
How is it that these people are in positions of power and influence?