The Encryption Debate – 60 Minutes

pavel_and_lesleyMy wife and I have been watching 60 Minutes for many years.  What we like is that most of the time segments are of general interest and objective.  What we dislike the most is when the position of 60 Minutes on the subject seems to be on one side of the issue (quite subjective).  An example of the latter was the report The Encryption Debate by Lesley Stahl aired Sunday, March 13, 2016.

Not sure what the FBI believes they will find in the Apple iPhone used by the terrorist in the San Bernardino attack on December 02, 2015.  Sadly, no matter is in the iPhone, it will not bring back the people that were cowardly murdered by the two terrorists.  The idea of punishing the perpetrators is off the table.  They both were shot dead shortly after.  The only things that might be found in the iPhone are private pictures and personal notes.  Let’s attempt to figure out the value of each type of item.apple_iphone_san_bernardino

How could private pictures help the FBI or any other government organization prevent further ISIS attacks?  It is ludicrous to believe that the perpetrators left behind pictures of accomplices that live in the USA and decided to stay and wait for authorities to arrest them.  As an example, we have the latest tragedy in France where about a dozen terrorist attack a set of locations and committed suicide.  The terrorists that were lucky to escape are back in the Middle East out of reach from authorities.

Regarding the personal notes, unless they kept locations and contacts of other terrorist cells in the USA, they are of little if any value.  It seems that suspected terrorists on international lists are able to travel in and out of the USA and France.

usa_massive_surveillanceSnowden, which is a sour point for the NSA, described lots of tools the USA and other governments have at their disposal to spy on people in our country and abroad.  The NSA has spied on French, Israeli, and UK leaders (just to mention a few).  How could two low life terrorists traveled in and out of the country, planned and execute their attack without being noticed?  The simple answer is because massive surveillance does not work.  One needs good policing practices to put in and out people in a threat list so they can be constantly monitored.

A very effective mechanism is to monitor and in this specific cases collect records from communication companies containing metadata for suspected terrorists.  That way the FBI could determine when, where and with whom terrorists communicate.  If they cannot get this done, we should completely cut the huge budgets the NSA, FBI and local police have to spy on people in the USA and abroad.

At the center of the 60 Minutes was the debate on encryption. One must strongly agree with the position of scientists and engineers that understand the implications of loose encryption and backdoors.  Sadly it seems that politicians have little if any to contribute in such discussion.  Encryption is a key technology for commerce, not only on the Internet but also in retail.  Such uses are simple for people to understand.  We then move to freedom of speech and privacy that by some strange reason, most people do not seem to understand.  If someone says or does something in private, as long it is not committing a crime, then third parties, including governments should not able to find out or prosecute.  Of course, crime is a very loose word.  Here in the USA, some things that are said and done by politicians are considered crimes for common people.  In other countries i.e., China and Russia, disagreeing with the government is considered a crime.  In most cases the suspect disappears.  Such behavior is the result of surveillance and the lack of privacy.  Is the FBI lobbying to copy and apply such techniques here in the USA?  For sure the Obama administration has been pushing ideas that reduce or eliminate privacy in our country.web_tracking

It was refreshing to interview Pavel Durov, the inventor of Telegram.  He fully understands that needs to be done and most important, what it is to live in a country with little or any privacy.  Mr. Durov mentioned that if commercial products become weak and have backdoors the bad guys will find and exploit them.  We have many instances in the USA where our government has used their surveillance and other powers to alienate US citizens that do not agree with them.

I work on and off with encryption.  Have been doing so for several years.  I have read several books, and articles on that technical subject.  Mr. Durov mentioned that if companies stop using strong encryption, terrorist organizations like ISIS in a month or so would be able to develop their own strong encryption applications.  Knowing what I know as a Computer Scientist, I fully agree with his assessment.  If or most likely when that happens, what will the FBI do?

The Naïve American

Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a comment

Your comment