US Attorney General ironically argues for encryption backdoor at a cybersecurity conference

David Matthews

TS Maniac
Staff member

Today, at a cybersecurity conference at Fordham University, United States Attorney General William Barr argued that strong encryption degrades the ability for law enforcement to do their jobs. He also claimed that "warrant-proof encryption is already imposing huge costs on society".

Those "costs" are apparently victims that would've been saved if only law enforcement were able to perform "lawful intercept" of communications by means of backdoor access to encryption used to secure the Internet and messaging apps. Barr added that the using encryption was tantamount to "converting the Internet and communications into a law-free zone" where criminals can roam free without the watchful eye of the police.

The AG also took aim at tech companies, accusing them of "dogmatic" posturing by refusing to build backdoors for law enforcement. Barr repeated the talking point that giving "lawful access" to encrypted data doesn't weaken the encryption itself.

"I am suggesting that it is well past time for some in the tech community to abandon the posture that a technical solution is not worth exploring and instead turn their considerable talent to developing products that will reconcile good cyber security to the imperative of public safety and national security".

This line of reasoning isn't new. In fact, both FBI Directors from the Trump and Obama Administrations have argued this. Former Director Christopher Wray argued that creating backdoors for law enforcement was simply "responsible encryption".

Apple notoriously refused to aid the FBI in 2016 after the San Bernardino shooting with CEO Tim Cook writing a customer letter explaining why Apple would not agree to unlock the shooter's iPhone 5C. Facebook also fought the US government's request to break the end-to-end encryption on its Messenger app to support a criminal investigation.

Ultimately, while most people probably understand the need for law enforcement to do their jobs, weakening encryption for law enforcement also undermines the need for encryption in the first place. Over 140 tech firms and cybersecurity experts sent a letter to the Obama Administration in the wake of the 2015 San Bernardino shooting and Paris attacks urging the President to oppose "any policy actions or measures that would undermine encryption as an available and effective tool."

The push and pull between tech firms and governments over encryption will continue to rage on. While popular messaging apps like WhatsApp and Signal and anonymizing tools like the Tor network can be used for nefarious purposes, many people have simultaneously used those tools to thwart government censorship or to just simply maintain their personal privacy.

Watch a snippet of AG Barr's remarks below:

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I thought that's what they have cyber crime divisions for. Surely they have the budgets to build powerful brute force systems.
Yeah but a backdoor is easier and preferable...

That is unless it's by another nation *cough*HuaweiChina*cough*
Then it's pure evil developed by the devil himself.
 
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mbrowne5061

TS Evangelist
Alright, lets say the AG gets his way. Law enforcement now has an easy way to access and can do their jobs again. How does the AG propose law enforcement do their job when the inevitable spike in fraud and white collar crime comes along because someone else figured out the police's backdoor? Also, since said backdoor would be there are the insistence of the police, will they take responsibility for any damages that occur due to it existing?
 
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David Matthews

TS Maniac
Staff member
"...turn their considerable talent to developing products that will reconcile good cyber security to the imperative of public safety and national security".

The irony is that making communications as secure as possible ensures public safety and national security.
 
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Evernessince

TS Evangelist
What he proposes makes it easier for everyone to get around the encryption, not just law enforcement. While it would allow officers to get into devices in a timely manner, it would also open everyone up to having their information stolen. The benefit does not nearly equal the cost.
 
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Capaill

TS Evangelist
I have built an impenetrable fortress that no one may enter, filled with desirable bounty! Just don't tell anyone about that door round the back that I have to keep wide open at all times.
You need security man! Use a 1-digit combination lock, that'll stop 'em!
 

roberthi

TS Addict
Let's start with his phone...see how it goes from there. If we find he was wrong, let's just use his budget and salary to fund the solution to the problem. There...problem solved.
 
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