“Talking points” aren’t deliberative documents, interagency memos, or documents containing sensitive personal information [b(5), b(6)]. Neither are they documents that might expose law enforcement sources or investigative techniques [b7(D) and 7(E)].They are exactly what the name says they are: points to be used when discussing these issues in Congressional hearings or during press conferences. They are indicative of the public stances the FBI takes on certain issues. There’s nothing secret about them, or at least there shouldn’t be.
Encryption is not the refuge of scoundrels, as Obama administration law-enforcement officials loudly proclaim – it is an essential tool needed to protect the right of freedom of opinion and expression in the digital age, a new United Nations report concludes.
Encryption that makes a communication unintelligible to anyone but the intended recipient creates “a zone of privacy to protect opinion and belief,” says the report from David Kaye, who as Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression is essentially the U.N.’s free speech watchdog.
The significance of encryption extends well beyond political speech, Kaye writes. “The ability to search the web, develop ideas and communicate securely may be the only way in which many can explore basic aspects of identity, such as one’s gender, religion, ethnicity, national origin or sexuality.”
Encryption, like anonymity, is essential to artists, journalists, whistleblowers, and many other classes of people, the report says.
And far from banning or weakening encryption, governments should embrace and strengthen it, Kaye writes. He specifically urges the U.S. Congress to “prohibit the Government from requiring companies to weaken product security or insert back-door access measures.”
Obama administration officials have been advocating for encryption with some sort of built-in measure that law enforcement could circumvent, either an intentional weakness that creates a “back door,” or some sort of split “master key”.
Newly-installed Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Wednesday became the latest to engage in fear-mongering, saying she had “grave concerns” about encryption’s use by “people whose sworn duty is to harm Americans here and abroad.”
National Security Agency director Mike Rogers took a slightly more nuanced view on Wednesday, ZDNet reported. “You’re not going to hear me say that encryption is a bad thing. I don’t think it is a bad thing. Encryption is not bad. Encryption is a fundamental part of the future; I think it would be ridiculous to pretend otherwise,” Rogers told a cyberwarfare conference in Estonia.
But he expressed his desire for a legal framework that would give law enforcement access, asking: “Can we create some mechanism where within this legal framework there’s a means to access information that directly relates to the security of our respective nations, even as at the same time we are mindful we have got to protect the rights of our individual citizens?”
Kaye’s answer is: No. He concludes from his research that “compromised encryption cannot be kept secret from those with the skill to find and exploit the weak points, whether State or non-State, legitimate or criminal.” Thus: “In the contemporary technological environment, intentionally compromising encryption, even for arguably legitimate purposes, weakens everyone’s security online.”
And Kaye points out that law enforcement officials “have not demonstrated that criminal or terrorist use of encryption serves as an insuperable barrier to law enforcement objectives.”
Indeed, FBI Director James Comey gave a much-quoted speech last fall about how increasingly common cell-phone encryption could lead law enforcement to a “very dark place” where it “misses out” on crucial evidence to nail criminals. But the examples he then gave failed the laugh test.
The United Nation’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights appoints expert “special rapporteurs” to be their eyes and ears when it comes to key human rights issues. Kaye, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, began his three-year term as the rapporteur for freedom of opinion and expression in August 2014.
His report also warns that state prohibitions of anonymity online – such as required real-name registration for online activity, SIM card registration, or banning of anonymity tools such as Tor — interfere with the right to freedom of expression.
Encryption advocates hailed the report. “This landmark report shows how fundamental — and necessary — encryption is for exercising freedom of expression,” said Access Senior Policy Counsel Peter Micek. “It’s a sober rebuke of baseless fear-mongering from those who say encryption only helps criminals and terrorists.”
Here’s a suggestion: if you’re a Congressional Representative whose job it is to regulate all sorts of important things, and you state in a hearing “I don’t know anything about this stuff” before spouting off on your crazy opinions about how something must be done… maybe, just maybe educate yourself before confirming to the world that you’re ignorant of the very thing you’re regulating. We famously saw this during the SOPA debate, where Representatives seemed proud of their own ignorance. As we noted at the time, it’s simply not okay for Congress to be proud of their own ignorance of technology, especially when they’re in charge of regulating it. But things have not changed all that much apparently.
We already wrote about FBI Director James Comey’s bizarre Congressional hearing earlier this week, in which he warned those in attendance about the horrible world that faced us when the FBI couldn’t spy on absolutely everything. But the folks holding the hearing were suckers for this, and none more so than Rep. John Carter. The ACLU’s Chris Soghoian alerts us to the following clip of Carter at that hearing, which he says “is going to be the new ‘The Internet is a Series of Tubes'” video. I would embed the video, but for reasons that are beyond me, C-SPAN doesn’t use HTTPS so an embed wouldn’t work here (randomly: Soghoian should offer CSPAN a bottle of whiskey to fix that…).
Here’s the basic transcript though:
Rep. John Carter: I’m chairman of Homeland Security Appropriations. I serve on Defense and Defense subcommittees. We have all the national defense issues with cyber. And now, sir, on this wonderful committee. So cyber is just pounding me from every direction. And every time I hear something, or something just pops in my head — because I don’t know anything about this stuff. If they can do that to a cell phone why can’t they do that to every computer in the country, and nobody can get into it? If that’s the case, then that’s the solution to the invaders from around the world who are trying to get in here. [Smug grin]
FBI Director Comey: [Chuckle and gives smug, knowing grin]
Carter: Then if that gets to be the wall, the stone wall, and even the law can’t penetrate it, then aren’t we creating an instrument [that] is the perfect tool for lawlessness. This is a very interesting conundrum that’s developing in the law. If they, at their own will at Microsoft can put something in a computer — or at Apple — can put something in thatcomputer [points on a smartphone], which it is, to where nobody but that owner can open it, then why can’t they put it in the big giant super computers, that nobody but that owner can open it. And everything gets locked away secretly. And that sounds like a solution to this great cyber attack problem, but in turn it allows those who would do us harm [chuckles] to have a tool to do a great deal of harm where law enforcement can’t reach them. This is a problem that’s gotta be solved.
Back in October, we highlighted the contradiction of FBI Director James Comey raging against encryption and demanding backdoors, while at the very same time the FBI’s own website wassuggesting mobile encryption as a way to stay safe. Sometime after that post went online, all of the information on that page about staying safe magically disappeared, though thankfully I screenshotted it at the time:
If you really want, you can still see that information over at the Internet Archive or in a separate press release the FBI apparently didn’t track down and memory hole yet. Still, it’s no surprise that the FBI quietly deleted that original page recommending that you encrypt your phones “to protect the user’s personal data,” because the big boss man is going around spreading a bunch of scare stories about how we’re all going to be dead or crying if people actually encrypted their phones:
Calling the use of encrypted phones and computers a “huge problem” and an affront to the “rule of law,” Comey, painted an apocalyptic picture of the world if the communications technology isn’t banned.
“We’re drifting to a place where a whole lot of people are going to look at us with tears in their eyes,” he told the House Appropriations Committee, describing a hypothetical in which a kidnapped young girl’s phone is discovered but can’t be unlocked.
So, until recently, the FBI was actively recommending you encrypt your data to protect your safety — and yet, today it’s “an affront to the rule of law.” Is this guy serious?
More directly, this should raise serious questions about what Comey thinks his role is at the FBI (or the FBI’s role is for the country)? Is it to keep Americans safe — or is it to undermine their privacy and security just so it can spy on everyone?
Back in January, we pointed out that just after US and EU law enforcement officials started freaking out about mobile encryption and demanding backdoors, that China was also saying that it wanted to require backdoors for itself in encrypted products. Now, President Obama claims he’s upset about this, saying that he’s spoken directly with China’s President Xi Jinping about it:
In an interview with Reuters, Obama said he was concerned about Beijing’s plans for a far-reaching counterterrorism law that would require technology firms to hand over encryption keys, the passcodes that help protect data, and install security “backdoors” in their systems to give Chinese authorities surveillance access.
“This is something that I’ve raised directly with President Xi,” Obama said. “We have made it very clear to them that this is something they are going to have to change if they are to do business with the United States.”
This comes right after the US Trade Rep Michael Froman issued a statement criticizing China for doing the same damn thing that the US DOJ is arguing the US should be doing:
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman issued a statement on Thursday criticizing the banking rules, saying they “are not about security – they are about protectionism and favoring Chinese companies”.
“The Administration is aggressively working to have China walk back from these troubling regulations,” Froman said.
Those claims would sound a hell of a lot stronger if they weren’t coming immediately after DOJ officials from Attorney General Eric Holder to FBI Director James Comey had more or less argued for the exact same thing.
Despite the post-Snowden spotlight on mass surveillance, the intelligence community’s easiest end-run around the Fourth Amendment since 2001 has been something called a National Security Letter.
FBI agents can demand that an Internet service provider, telephone company or financial institution turn over its records on any number of people — without any judicial review whatsoever — simply by writing a letter that says the information is needed for national security purposes. The FBI at one point was cranking out over 50,000 such letters a year; by the latest count, it still issues about 60 a day.
The letters look like this:
Recipients are legally required to comply — but it doesn’t stop there. They also aren’t allowed to mention the order to anyone, least of all the person whose data is being searched. Ever. That’s because National Security Letters almost always come with eternal gag orders. Here’s that part:
That means the NSL process utterly disregards the First Amendment as well.
More than a year ago, President Obama announced that he was ordering the Justice Department to terminate gag orders “within a fixed time unless the government demonstrates a real need for further secrecy.”
And on Feb. 3, when the Office of the Director of National Intelligence announced a handful of baby steps resulting from its “comprehensive effort to examine and enhance [its] privacy and civil liberty protections” one of the most concrete was — finally — to cap the gag orders:
In response to the President’s new direction, the FBI will now presumptively terminate National Security Letter nondisclosure orders at the earlier of three years after the opening of a fully predicated investigation or the investigation’s close.
Continued nondisclosures orders beyond this period are permitted only if a Special Agent in Charge or a Deputy Assistant Director determines that the statutory standards for nondisclosure continue to be satisfied and that the case agent has justified, in writing, why continued nondisclosure is appropriate.
Despite the use of the word “now” in that first sentence, however, the FBI has yet to do any such thing. It has not announced any such change, nor explained how it will implement it, or when.
FBI Director James Comey repeatedly defended the police in a speech intended to address race relations after a series of high-profile killings by law enforcement officers.
Speaking at Georgetown University this morning, Comey said citizens need to have more empathy for police, that police response time is not influenced by race, and that “law enforcement is not the root cause of problems in our hardest-hit neighborhoods.”
Comey also cited and quoted from the song “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” from the Broadway play “Avenue Q,” adding that while everyone has a duty to try and overcome bias, “racial bias isn’t epidemic in those who join law enforcement any more than it is epidemic in academia or the arts.” And yet “after years of police work, officers often can’t help but be influenced by the cynicism they feel” and begin viewing black citizens differently.
The much-anticipated address comes in the wake of a series of killings of black citizens at the hands of local police, including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; Eric Garner in New York; and Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio.