Some notes on why crypto backdoors are unreasonable

Some notes on why crypto backdoors are unreasonable by Robert Graham.

From the post:

Robert gives a good summary of the usual arguments against crypto backdoors and then makes a new-to-me case against the FBI lobbying for such backdoors.

From the post:


Today’s testimony by the FBI and the DoJ discussed the tradeoffs between privacy and protection. Victims of crimes, those who get raped and murdered, deserve to have their killers brought to justice. That criminals get caught dissuades crime. Crypto makes prosecuting criminals harder.

That’s all true, and that’s certainly the argument victim rights groups should make when lobbying government. But here’s the thing: it’s not the FBI’s job to care. We, the people, make the decision about these tradeoffs. It’s solely we, the people, who are the constituents lobbying congress. The FBI’s job is to do what we tell them. They aren’t an interested party. Sure, it’s their job to stop crime, but it’s also their job to uphold rights. They don’t have an opinion, by definition, which one takes precedence over the other — congress makes that decision.

Yet, in this case, they do have an opinion. The only reason the subcommittee held hearings today is in response to the FBI lobbying for backdoors. Even if this issue were reasonable, it’s not reasonable that the FBI should lobby for it.

Where I depart from Robert are his concessions that there is a tradeoff between privacy and protection, that getting caught dissuades crime and that crypto makes prosecuting criminals more difficult.

Amy Hess, the executive assistant director of the FBI’s science and technology branch, testified:

It’s critical for police to “have the ability to accept or to receive the information that we might need in order to hold those accountable who conduct heinous crimes or conduct terrorist attacks,” (Government ‘backdoors’ to bypass encryption will make them vulnerable to attacks – industry experts)

The victims of crimes and prosecution arguments are entirely speculative. If there were a single concrete case where crypto either allowed the guilty to escape, that would be the first words out of Hess’ mouth. Law enforcement types would trot it out every day. Not even single case has come to light. There isn’t any balancing to do with the needs of law enforcement. They should come back when they can show real harm.

The other thing that prompted me to write was Robert saying that getting caught “dissuades crime.” Hardly, that’s the old canard about the death penalty being a deterrent to crime. Never has been the case that punishment deters crime. Even when hands were removed for theft.

The FBI has an interest to advance, for the same reason that it sets up emotionally disturbed young men to be busted for terrorist offenses. It has a budget and staff to maintain and you can’t do that without keeping yourself in the public eye. It also captures real criminals from time to time, but that is more of a sideline than its main purpose. Like all agencies and businesses, its main objection is its own preservation.

My disagreement with the FBI is over its use of fictional threats to deceive the public and its representatives for purposes that have nothing to do with the public good.

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