New Commission Will Try to Solve Encryption Debate
I don’t think I’ve ever written on the same subject three times in a row. When the situation changes on an almost daily basis, however, it becomes hard to ignore. There is no shortage of updates on the confrontation between Apple and the Justice Department, and this week is the intended time for two Congressmen to introduce a bill to get the ball rolling. Last Wednesday, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Virginia) announced their plans to form a commission whose purpose will be to tackle these tense issues of cybersecurity.
Noble in cause, it is nonetheless in the specifics that I find the doubt about this upcoming group’s efficacy. McCaul and Warner sound little different from the majority of remaining presidential candidates who have weighed in on this issue in their attempt to achieve objectives for both sides. In this case, that means figuring out a way to provide law enforcement access to information behind encryption, while also ensuring the security of people’s personal, financial and medical data. This echoes statements made by the likes of Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz.
Listen, it would be great if there were a possibility of somehow rejiggering these devices to give law enforcement access to isolated, individual phones, and even then only in extreme circumstances, like a terrorist attack. While my knowledge only goes so far on all the exact technical details, though, every expert I have seen comment has insisted that it simply is not, and that it is an either-or proposition. Could a commission, which will have a year to come up with solutions, be able to, against all likelihood, pull a rabbit out of the hat? Maybe, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
It also doesn’t help when McCaul and Warner, despite making what I consider an insightful point (Warner expressed worries about both sides “talking past each other,” which can often be a significant problem in communication)—despite this, you still have McCaul repeating the disproven implication that the Paris terrorists used end-to-end encryption to plan their attacks. There are doubtless terrorists who use encryption—everyone does—but these were not among them.
Last Friday, on his late night HBO show Real Time, comedian Bill Maher, interviewing former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden, came down against Apple’s refusal to create a back door, compared to the more nuanced take of the former Big Brother. After watching the segment, I believe lack of understanding to be the culprit here, but it would serve Maher well, and others uncertain about the issue, to keep this in mind: it’s not merely your photos and texts that cause all this hoopla. Your medical records, your bank accounts, your Social Security numbers—your identity, essentially, is what becomes vulnerable, once this back door gets into the hands of anyone willing to abuse it. If this commission comes into effect, I hope they also remember that.