Security Experts Have Been Unable to Find a Workable Solution to FBI Director James Comey’s Ostensible “Going Dark” Problem

No matter how hard they have tried, technologists and security experts have been unable to find a workable solution to FBI Director James Comey’s ostensible “going dark” problem (emphasis added):

Short of outlawing cryptography, which would ensure that only outlaws have crypto, some of the solutions on the table call for either key escrow or building access for law enforcement into key servers.

“There’s no assurance that something like this would not be abused for mass surveillance,” Green said.

The FBI’s Comey, as recently as a month ago, eased off demands for exceptional access, and instead told technology companies they need to try harder to find a solution to the problem. Key escrow, where trusted parties share keys, was part of Comey’s solution.

“I’ve heard that it’s too hard, that there’s no solution. Really?” Comey said during a Congressional hearing July 8, mentioning Silicon Valley by name. “Maybe it is too hard, but given the stakes, we’ve got to give it a shot and I don’t think it’s been given an honest hard look.

“We want people to be in position to comply with judges’ orders in the U.S. We want creative people to figure out how to comply with court orders,” Comey said. “You shouldn’t be looking at the FBI director for innovation.”

Green and Denaro pointed out during today’s session a number of technical issues that make exceptional access a bad idea, in particular the fact that this issue has no geographic borders. Should Apple, for example, build in a backdoor for U.S. law enforcement, how does it say no to other countries, including leaders in oppressive or sanctioned nations?

“Once we have the capability to eavesdrop, even if you build in a legal safeguard to make sure it’s not abused, what happens when you send this to repressive governments that don’t have a First Amendment?” Green said. “Build it here to chase [criminals] and give that same technology to oppressive governments to own devices? If ISIS needs encryption, it will get it. It will stop relying on iMessage pretty quickly if it’s backdoored.”

I am just not buying this whole “going dark” problem. The FBI just wants these tools to make their jobs easier, which I can totally related to and maybe even sympathize. However, to blatantly disregard the security implications inherent in backdoors, the FBI is positioning the US to be less safe than anywhere else.

As a parallel, who were the only people with alcohol during Prohibition? Gangsters and people uninterested in following the law. So guess what happened? There was a lot of violence around the alcohol trade, many unnecessary deaths, and meanwhile people kept drinking alcohol. Long story short: prohibition did not prohibit anything. What makes the FBI think the same is going to happen this time around?

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