US Department of Justice echoes Amber Rudd’s views on encryption
Donald Trump’s Department of Justice seems to be following in the worryingly ignorant footsteps of Home Secretary Amber Rudd. The Deputy General Attorney, Rod Rosenstein, has today taken a swipe at the use of encryption on consumer products arguing that it blocks the government from protecting the country from terrorists.
He went on to say that “The advent of ‘warrant-proof’ encryption is a serious problem,” and that “encrypted communications that cannot be intercepted and locked devices that cannot be opened are law-free zones that permit criminals and terrorists to operate without detection”.
But while potentially true, his statement conveniently ignores a whole multitude of other useful benefits that encryption provides. He fails to mention that the encryption he loathes so much is the exact thing that’s protecting private citizens from the very same criminals he goes on to identify.
“If companies are permitted to create law-free zones for their customers, citizens should understand the consequences,” he said. “When police cannot access evidence, crime cannot be solved. Criminals cannot be stopped and punished”.
Rosenstein is the DOJ’s second-highest ranking official after Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and was personally nominated and, in effect, endorsed by Donald Trump. His eerily familiar statement comes at a time when governments are increasingly taking shots at encryption, hiding behind the highly-flammable argument that encrypted messaging apps are breeding grounds for organised terrorism.
“When terrorists can communicate covertly without fear of detection, chaos may follow,” Rosenstein went on to say.
That’s true. But deliberately hobbling encryption wouldn’t prevent determined terrorists from chatting away on the dark web, hand delivered and destroyable hand-written notes, or face-to-face chats. None of these are accessible to government agencies either.
Rosenstein kind of began to acknowledge this, accepting that “No solution will be perfect.” But he soon assuaged these doubts by caveating his comments by adding: “If only major providers refrain from making their products safe for terrorists and criminals, […] it would still be a major step forward”.
Right. Except what he either doesn’t understand or deliberately obscures is that weakening of encryption would hurt every single user of WhatsApp, Messenger and Telegram.
“Technology companies almost certainly will not develop responsible encryption if left to their own devices. Competition will fuel a mindset that leads them to produce products that are more and more impregnable. That will give criminals and terrorists more opportunities to cause harm with impunity.”
Counterpoint: Thank technology companies for designing the impenetrable level of encryption we enjoy today. The former head of GCHQ has called it “an overwhelmingly good thing.” Whether the tired over-simplistic arguments about terrorist safespaces are the consequence of ignorance or political expediency, it doesn’t look like this argument is going away anytime soon.
Image: Office of Public Affairs