Lawmakers don't understand computers

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Thad
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Lawmakers don't understand computers

Postby Thad » Fri Mar 27, 2015 4:00 pm

Techdirt: Congressional Rep. John Carter Discovers Encryption; Worries It May One Day Be Used On Computers To Protect Your Data

Rep. John Carter: I'm chairman of Homeland Security Appropriations. I serve on Defense and Defense subcommittees. We have all the national defense issues with cyber. And now, sir, on this wonderful committee. So cyber is just pounding me from every direction. And every time I hear something, or something just pops in my head -- because I don't know anything about this stuff. If they can do that to a cell phone why can't they do that to every computer in the country, and nobody can get into it? If that's the case, then that's the solution to the invaders from around the world who are trying to get in here. [Smug grin]

FBI Director Comey: [Chuckle and gives smug, knowing grin]

Carter: Then if that gets to be the wall, the stone wall, and even the law can't penetrate it, then aren't we creating an instrument [that] is the perfect tool for lawlessness. This is a very interesting conundrum that's developing in the law. If they, at their own will at Microsoft can put something in a computer -- or at Apple -- can put something in that computer [points on a smartphone], which it is, to where nobody but that owner can open it, then why can't they put it in the big giant super computers, that nobody but that owner can open it. And everything gets locked away secretly. And that sounds like a solution to this great cyber attack problem, but in turn it allows those who would do us harm [chuckles] to have a tool to do a great deal of harm where law enforcement can't reach them. This is a problem that's gotta be solved.


I'll give him one thing: at least he seems to immediately grasp the fundamental benefits and the fundamental drawbacks to cryptography.

It's just, you know, maybe some guy who has never heard of cryptography before should not be chairman of Homeland Security Appropriations.

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Re: Lawmakers don't understand computers

Postby Friday » Fri Mar 27, 2015 9:29 pm

Well, that and he's on the wrong side of the argument.
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Re: Lawmakers don't understand computers

Postby Thad » Sat Mar 28, 2015 1:49 am

Well, he seems to understand that encryption keeps bad guys from accessing your data, which is a good start. What somebody needs to explain to him is that law enforcement can still compel people to give up their data, they just need a warrant.

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Re: Lawmakers don't understand computers

Postby TA » Sat Mar 28, 2015 1:16 pm

Well, the data itself yes, but whether you can be compelled to provide the password for encrypted data is yet to be decided. You can be compelled to give up the key to a lock, but not the combination to a safe, because one's a physical thing and the other is the "expression of the contents of an individuals mind". Never really know with the Supreme Court, but persuasive precedent is in favor of not having to decrypt things for the cops.
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Re: Lawmakers don't understand computers

Postby Thad » Sat Apr 04, 2015 12:09 am


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Re: Lawmakers don't understand computers

Postby Grath » Sat Apr 04, 2015 12:43 am


Someone on Reddit had a remarkably plausible theory: Dianne Feinstein is a vampire that feeds off trying to violate constitutional amendments. First it was the second ("we have to ban scary-looking black plastic guns because... black plastic makes them more lethal somehow" - no matter you views on guns, banning guns because of generally nonfunctional cosmetic "military style" features such as being able to attach a bayonet to it solves literally nothing) and now it's the first. However, I do look forward to the Streisand Effect.

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Re: Lawmakers don't understand computers

Postby Brentai » Sat Apr 04, 2015 1:27 am

That book has been riding the Streisand Effect for 44 years.

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Re: Lawmakers don't understand computers

Postby Thad » Fri May 01, 2015 1:15 am

So it turns out some lawmakers DO understand computers. Lawmakers like Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA), who has a CS degree and is the subject of an Ars article titled Irate Congressman gives cops easy rule: “just follow the damn Constitution”

"It is clear to me that creating a pathway for decryption only for good guys is technologically stupid, you just can't do that," he said [...]

He argued:

It's a fundamental misunderstanding of the problem. Why do you think Apple and Google are doing this? It's because the public is demanding it. People like me: privacy advocates. A public does not want a an out of surveillance state. It is the public that is asking for this. Apple and Google didn't do this because they thought they would make less money. This is a private sector response to government overreach.

Then you make another statement that somehow these companies are not credible because they collect private data. Here's the difference: Apple and Google don't have coercive power. District attorneys do, the FBI does, the NSA does, and to me it's very simple to draw a privacy balance when it comes to law enforcement and privacy: just follow the damn Constitution.

And because the NSA didn't do that and other law enforcement agencies didn't do that, you're seeing a vast public reaction to this. Because the NSA, your colleagues, have essentially violated the Fourth Amendment rights of every American citizen for years by seizing all of our phone records, by collecting our Internet traffic, that is now spilling over to other aspects of law enforcement. And if you want to get this fixed, I suggest you write to NSA: the FBI should tell the NSA, stop violating our rights. And then maybe you might have much more of the public on the side of supporting what law enforcement is asking for.

Then let me just conclude by saying I do agree with law enforcement that we live in a dangerous world. And that's why our founders put in the Constitution of the United States—that's why they put in the Fourth Amendment. Because they understand that an Orwellian overreaching federal government is one of the most dangerous things that this world can have. I yield back.


Lieu added later, in an E-Mail to Ars:

In addition, computer code is neutral and unthinking. It cannot tell if the person typing on a keyboard trying to access private data is the FBI Director, a hacker, or the leader of Hamas as long as that person has the cryptographic key or other unlocking code. The view that computer backdoors can only be used by "good guys" reflects a lack of understanding of basic computer technology.

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Re: Lawmakers don't understand computers

Postby Thad » Mon Dec 21, 2015 2:53 pm

Ars: Hillary Clinton wants “Manhattan-like project” to break encryption

"I would hope that, given the extraordinary capacities that the tech community has and the legitimate needs and questions from law enforcement, that there could be a Manhattan-like project, something that would bring the government and the tech communities together to see they're not adversaries, they've got to be partners," Clinton continued. "It doesn't do anybody any good if terrorists can move toward encrypted communication that no law enforcement agency can break into before or after. There must be some way. I don't know enough about the technology, Martha, to be able to say what it is, but I have a lot of confidence in our tech experts."


Here's the thing, though: you don't have to understand technology to understand that this is bullshit, you just have to understand basic logic.

Computers are not magic. They do not know who is using them, or for what purpose.

If Alice can break Bob's encryption, then Bob can break Alice's encryption. If America can break ISIS's encrypted communications, then ISIS can break America's encrypted communications. And, not to put too fine a point on it, if the NSA says it's spying on terrorists, it's actually spying on you.

There is not actually any way to make encryption that is only breakable when bad people use it -- any more than there is a way to make an atomic bomb that will only kill bad guys, since you bring up the Manhattan Project, Secretary Clinton. This is kids-on-a-playground "I have a laser-proof shield that only lets my lasers out but won't let your lasers in" shit.

Course, I think Clinton's smarter than she's letting on; I think she knows fully well that this is bullshit but she's saying what voters want to hear, because they think computers are magic.

Clinton added some caveats. "Maybe the back door is the wrong door, and I understand what Apple and others are saying about that," she said. The US also has to "balance liberty and security, privacy and safety."


Ben Franklin's opinions on liberty and safety aside, this is one of those situations where there actually isn't a middle ground. Encryption is either secure or it isn't.

I do think there's a reasonable middle-ground to be had here, but it's not a technological one, it's a legal one: get a fucking warrant.

And, yes, that's not an ideal solution either; warrants are subject to plenty of abuse and rubber-stamping, and they still can't force a suspect to decrypt encrypted data. Nobody said the Fourth Amendment was perfect, but it's still the best solution we've got.

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Re: Lawmakers don't understand computers

Postby Thad » Tue Mar 28, 2017 10:17 am

UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd, on terrorists using social networks:

What I’m saying is the best people who understand the technology, who understand the necessary hashtags to stop this stuff even being put up, not just taking it down, are going to be them. That’s why I would like to have an industry-wide board set up where they do it themselves.


(Techdirt is now selling "I know the #necessaryhashtags" shirts.)

She also favors magic encryption that is secure for good guys but not for bad guys, because of course she does.

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