Bloomberg On Encryption
Michael Bloomberg, in an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, “The Terrorism Fight Needs Silicon Valley”:
When Apple refused to unlock a cellphone used by one of the San Bernardino terrorists (and owned by his public employer), many in the tech industry came to the company’s defense. They argued, in effect, that they shouldn’t be forced to cooperate with a search warrant for one of their products, even though failure to comply could put more innocent lives at risk.
Google, Facebook, Snapchat and WhatsApp are all working to increase encryption in ways that will make it impossible for the courts and law-enforcement officials to obtain their users’ data. They argue that if they are forced to comply with government requests for data, terrorists will simply choose open-source encryption apps instead.
This is not what people or Apple were arguing. The argument is that putting a back-door into these platforms weakens their security and will be exploited. Plenty of evidence and arguments by experts exists about this. And as I contend, it will ultimately lead to legislation that will outlaw encryption. In fact, while not explicitly framed is such, this kind of legislation has already been introduced, and thankfully so far, quashed.
Bloomberg continues, framing this in terms of only one side of the issue:
Yet Apple responded to the investigation with a troubling announcement: In the future, phones will be designed to prevent even Apple from opening them, just as the makers of some messaging services have already done. Such a move would be an unprecedented rejection of public authority and a potentially catastrophic blow to public safety. The prospect of criminals and terrorists communicating with phones beyond the reach of government search warrants should send a shiver down the spine of every citizen.
Yes, anyone can use existing technologies to encrypt communications. But by ignoring the other aspect of this, which is that, um, anyone can use existing technologies to encrypt communications (including personal data, banking, resisting oppressive regimes, etc.), all of us have security we can actually trust. This has huge benefits for society.
It is indeed a double-edged sword. And when that is the nature of any heavy topic, it is one of the hardest concepts for people to accept. It’s truly damned-if-you-do-or-don’t.
I believe Bloomberg is sincere and thinks that the need to spy on potential terrorists outweighs the interest society has to rely on encryption. But what is Bloomberg offering specifically in terms of how to move forward? Not a damn thing. And the general concept he argues is to trust the government and effectively live without encryption, which is another step to becoming a police state.