Starting now, more and more phones will have their data encrypted, so nobody but the phone’s owner can peek. Apple just started and Android’s following suit. Now we hear howls of outrage from government officials claiming this will protect criminals, doom victims, and so on. But they’re completely wrong.

The pushback · A particularly shrill shriek came from former FBI Assistant Director Ronald T. Hosko in the Washington Post. I could disagree with him here, but instead I’ll point you at the essential Marcy Wheeler; in Former FBI Assistant Director Makes a Compelling Case to Eliminate the Corporation she pretty well reduces him to quivering blobs of protoplasm.

The Post is zero-for-two on this issue; in Compromise needed on smartphone encryption they argue for encryption-but-not-really, suggesting that there be a Golden Key that Apple or Google or whoever could use to help those fine law-enforcement officials if they really, really needed to peek. Uh, no.

Why they’re wrong · In four short points.

  1. It’s really hard to believe there are many secrets that you can get with a warrant but you can’t get from the phone. For example, pull the SIM out, find the phone number, then (unless Ed Snowden’s been telling whoppers) they can find out where the phone went and who it called.

  2. Those of us who live in civilized democracies might be sort of OK with a setup where an official can get a warrant to open up a phone. Except for a huge proportion of Homo sapiens don’t; they’re in places where the government is some combination of corrupt, autocratic, and paranoid.

    Is it sane to ask Apple, Google, and friends to make judgment calls on which governments get access to the “Golden Key”? I’m sure the governments they turn down will be just fine with that, and would never consider locking up local Apple employees to apply pressure.

  3. Oh, wait… even here in the civilized world, our public-safety officials have apparently skated right up to the edge of common law, then over, basically scooping up all the traffic and storing it for later, running data taps into Google’s freaking data centers, then lying about what they’re doing.

    So I’m sorry guys, I’m afraid that for the moment you’re having a great big trust issue; just not OK with you and that Golden Key.

  4. There’s an old cowboy saying: “Ain’t no horse that can’t be rode, ain’t no man that can’t be throwed.” And, ain’t no key that can’t be stolen. Which is a manageable fact of life; unless it’s a Golden Key that opens everyone’s door.

Encrypting phones makes the world a safer and better place and that’s all there is to it.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: AlanL (Oct 06 2014, at 22:51)

Fully agree. The FBI need to understand that their colleagues have completely forfeited all vestiges of public trust, and that it is a good thing that they operate in a society where that sort of behaviour still has consequences.


From: Julian (Oct 07 2014, at 07:32)

I agree with you, Apple, Google and other who are going to follow, made a very good decision.

It's understandable that officials might not want to let things out of hand, but recent years have proved that there are many out there that don't care about privacy.


From: John Cowan (Oct 13 2014, at 20:04)

Since Teh Gummint can certainly get a FISA warrant to impose a Golden Key equivalent on Apple and Google and gag them from talking about it, reassurances from either company are in fact worthless.


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