Obama administration’s calls for backdoors into encrypted communications echo Clinton-era key escrow fiasco

“In the face of a Federal Bureau of Investigation proposal requesting backdoors into encrypted communications, a noted encryption expert urged Congress not to adopt the requirements due to technical faults in the plan,” Sean Gallagher reports for Ars Technica. “The shortcomings in question would allow anyone to easily defeat the measure with little technical effort.”

“Please note, the testimony referenced above was delivered on May 11, 1993. However, that doesn’t change its applicability today,” Gallagher reports. “In fact, current pressure being applied by law enforcement and intelligence officials over end-to-end encrypted communications appears eerily reminiscent of a similar battle nearly 25 years ago.”

“Last week, FBI Director James Comey again pushed forward arguments for law enforcement ‘backdoors’ into encrypted communication applications… Though the FBI director reluctantly dropped his lobbying efforts for such a backdoor this summer, the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino have raised the issue again. Even President Obama recently asked for technology companies to help give the government access to communications over messaging applications and social media,” Gallagher reports. “The argument against backdoors, however, has not changed since 1993.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: As we wrote early last month: Backdoors = insecurity. Wherever backdoors exist, it’s not only “authorities” exploiting them legally. Only a blooming idiot would believe in a “secure backdoor” accessible only by properly authorized “authorities.���

None of us should accept that the government or a company or anybody should have access to all of our private information. This is a basic human right. We all have a right to privacy. We shouldn’t give it up. We shouldn’t give in to scare-mongering or to people who fundamentally don’t understand the details.Apple CEO Tim Cook, February 27, 2015

Apple CEO Cook: ‘You can’t have a back door that’s only for the good guys’ – November 21, 2015
Apple CEO Cook defends encryption, opposes back door for government spies – October 20, 2015
Do not let the government snoops weaken encryption – November 4, 2015
U.S. NSA seeks to build quantum computer to crack most types of encryption – January 3, 2014
Judge compares government request for Apple to access users’ iPhone data to execution order – October 27, 2015
U.S. judge expresses doubts over forcing Apple to unlock iPhone – October 26, 2015
Apple tells U.S. judge it can’t unlock iPhones running iOS 8 or higher – October 20, 2015
Apple CEO Cook defends encryption, opposes back door for government spies – October 20, 2015
With Apple court order, activist federal judge seeks to fuel debate about data encryption – October 12, 2015
Judge declines to order Apple to disable security on device seized by U.S. government – October 10, 2015
Apple refused to give iMessages to the U.S. government – September 8, 2015
Obama administration war against Apple just got uglier – July 31, 2015
Edward Snowden: Apple is a privacy pioneer – June 5, 2015
Apple, others urge Obama to reject any proposal for smartphone backdoors – May 19, 2015
U.S. appeals court rules NSA bulk collection of phone data illegal – May 7, 2015
In open letter to Obama, Apple, Google, others urge Patriot Act not be renewed – March 26, 2015
Apple’s iOS encryption has ‘petrified’ the U.S. administration, governments around the world – March 19, 2015

[Thanks to MacDailyNews readers too numerous to mention individually for the heads up.]


  1. Who needs backdoors when they probably have front doors. Much the same as an apartment manager having a key to all the suites. After all the government and the military invented encryption. If it was really such a big deal the government could just make encryption illegal to use and simply arrest those that did. It sounds like a smoke screen to me.

    1. What you’re describing is a back door. A front door would be having the person’s username and password. A back door is having an alternative method into the account or alternative decryption key that is built into the system by design. It’s more like saying the apartment manager doesn’t ask for the tenant’s key to gain entry, they have their own master key, and could enter without the tenant ever knowing.

      “If it was really such a big deal the government could just make encryption illegal to use and simply arrest those that did.”

      The problem with making encryption illegal is that it would make all kinds of things impossible. No online banking, stock trading, heck, just about anything we need to do which requires information not being disclosed to the public. You’d pretty much need to turn off the Internet, credit cards, banks, etc…

      Instead, what is asking for is that back door access be available to law enforcement agencies upon issuing of a warrant, and that any encrypted system must be able to comply with the warranted request for access.

      What they’re saying is, “go ahead and encrypt as much as you want to keep transactions safe from criminals, and to provide customers privacy; however, allow us access when needed. Don’t build a system that is so secure that you yourself can’t even decrypt the data.”

      I’m not defending this argument here, just trying to objectively describe it.

      Critics of this argue that by allowing a back door to encryption, you’re inherently making things less secure and opening the system up to attacks and abuse, including potential abuse by the government itself (which doesn’t have such a great reputation in this area right now).

      1. It only takes a small flaw, a crack, a weakness to destroy an entire dam. This basically is what the government wants to do with no guarantee it couldn’t also be exploited by “bad guys”. But they’ll say “think about the children” if people are skeptical of terrorism. It’s all well and good to say that, but blocking child porn does nothing for the victim, does nothing to protect them. They can’t retroactively be un-raped by blocking a person from downloading videos and pictures of them. As for terrorism, I know it’s a concern but how many terrorist attacks are there yearly? How many do they kill? How many people live on Earth?

        1. As I said in my previous comment, I wasn’t trying to defend the argument in favor of government back doors, I was just trying to objectively describe it.

          On the other hand, I would argue the point you made:
          “blocking child porn does nothing for the victim, does nothing to protect them. They can’t retroactively be un-raped by blocking a person from downloading videos and pictures of them.”

          Not that I’m saying that this is a valid argument for government encryption back doors, but to argue that child porn should be “blocked” or rather banned, and those who are caught engaging in it should be prosecuted and imprisoned.

          What any one specific child who is raped and has images/videos posted online won’t be unraped regardless of what prosecution follows, the same could be said of any rape or many other crimes.

          The idea is to stop those who raped from raping again, provide justice to the victims, and for the victims not to be victimized perpetually by knowing images/videos of what happened to them are still being used.

          Further, by going after the consumers of child porn, you reduce the demand for it, thus reducing the opportunity for those who may profit from it.

          Again, I’m not saying that we should all live with compromised security and privacy in order to have our government prosecute those that engage in child porn on any level, but I disagree with your comments regarding the impact of prosecuting those that engage in child porn.

    2. Wow, mfdcap10, you really should read up on this if you want to express an opinion. You don’t make good arguments when you make comments like this that are clearly based on not knowing what you’re talking about.
      General rule of thumb: informed opinions can be useful, even if they aren’t popular. Uninformed opinions are completely useless.

  2. If I recall correctly it was the “right to privacy” supposedly guaranteed by the Constitution that prompted the Supreme Court decision that abortion was legal. This will be an interesting process – determining what is private and what is not. I stand with Tim Cook.

  3. Question:

    if the neocons are so interested in privacy, encryption, and preventing back doors- even calling for the impeachment of the American president- then why are they so interested in preventing a woman from privacy when dealing with her ownb healthcare?

    1. …. because it is the murder of an innocent, defenseless baby because the dumb bunny or partner couldn’t keep their pants on, or at least didn’t give a damn if she got pregnant. Nothing to do with ‘healthcare’ you idiot.

      1. @x: First, calling names eviscerates any credibility you may ever have had. Second, it’s interesting you immediately jumped to the topic of abortion. Even so, your argument is patently false. Certain republican states, and certain republican politicians, want all abortion to be unlawful, even when the mother is a 13 year old rape or incest victim. Even if the mother’s heath is at mortal risk either because of the pregnancy or because of some other illness or condition. Calling such a victim a “dumb bunny” is unfortunately all too typical of the mindset of the most controlling party in the country – the republicans.
        Third, a number of republicans want to publicize in attempts to embarrass any woman going to places like Planned Parenthood, no matter what reason she has. Republicans have demanded medical records (in complete violation of HIPAA) to see which patients had abortions. And so they get the records of women who weren’t pregnant, but went there for undeniable “women’s healthcare” issues.
        Republican fanatics are the biggest threat to democracy in this country. Remember “if you’re not with us you must be against us”? Remember the VP’s chief of staff deliberately outing a serving undercover CIA officer in order to get vengeance at her husband for exposing the administration’s lies?
        Last, if it wasn’t so terrible it would be laughable that you call all abortion “murder” but defend the killing of thousands of innocent Americans each year through lack of controls on guns; and more deaths through the use of capital punishment, despite the proven bias, fraud and incompetence of the judicial system that has executed scores of innocent people.

        1. You have to remember that republican politicians don’t care about abortion on any moral ground. Abortion is the political equivalent of the scantily clad magicians assistant, it is simply misdirection, much like gay marriage. It is a topic that is brought up with vigor whenever they don’t want the public focus on the real issues. Take the last mass shooting at the planned parenthood, you hear almost nothing on the right about the need for gun control or mental health or how the toxic and violent political rhetoric on television is inciting mentally unstable people to commit these types of acts, instead all the talk is about abortion, it is just a misdirect from the real issues.

          1. Any threat to freedom from the outside or from individuals can be fought and mitigated. The government itself turning totalitarian (the rest of the way) is unavoidable.
            Thus, “Republican fanatics are the biggest threat to democracy” makes a LOT of sense. @joebloggs didn’t say “ALL Republicans,” he referred to fanatics. Look at the support for Donald Trump within the Republican party – shockingly high, which indicates the fanatics there have a lot of influence. Trump has made it clear that he finds freedom to be a nuisance that he would dismiss when it gets in the way of his plans.

            So, Republican _fanatics_ seem to be a scarily large group, they have access to one of the two major political parties (and the other seems pretty impotent in fighting back), and they find most freedoms (other than owning guns) to be inconvenient or repellent.

            Those fanatics, if they get what they want, would have a say in EVERY aspect of American lives. Sounds like the biggest threat to democracy to me, at least for Americans.

        2. @joebloggs – ” Even if the mother’s heath is at mortal risk either because of the pregnancy or because of some other illness or condition.”

          There is no such condition, and the doctors who know their stuff have testified to such; this is one of the most meaningless red herrings in the pro-abortion talking point zoo. Even in the exceptional case where, for example, there is a cancerous uterus which must be removed to save the life of the mother, the intention (key word there) is not to kill the child currently inhabiting that space, but to save a life; the child is an unfortunate casualty, not the target of the procedure. And NO ONE objects to this, not even the Catholic Church.

          Rape and incest are terrible crimes, but they do not impute any guilt to the resulting child; how, then, can you justify killing someone who is the DEFINITION of “innocent bystander”?

          1. You contradict yourself: “there is no such condition” vs. “[e]ven in the exceptional case . . . .” I know, from personal experience, that those exceptional cases happen. And I know that certain republican politicians, at both Fed and State (certain states only) level, would ban abortion even in those extreme circumstances.

            Under the law, abortion before the foetus reaches a certain age after conception is legal. The foetus is not considered a viable human being before that time. Even the Catholic church used to hold that prior to the 16-17 week stage, the foetus had no soul and therefore was not a human.

            “x” was defending the financial attacks and attacks on privacy at women’s health clinics on the grounds they provide abortions, opining that those clinics, and in particular abortions, have nothing to do with women’s health. As you concede, he is absolutely wrong. As are the politicians and far right republican commentators he echoes.

        1. Government proves nothing, and your assertion proves only that you know virtually nothing about reproductive biology. You may have a right to free speech, but frankly you’re the poster child for showing why rights come with responsibilities.

    2. My comment had nothing to do with health care. I was simply musing about the concept of “privacy”. But if you feel the need to jump out there and miss the point, and get on your soap box, well then there you are.

      1. Not according to the law of the USA and any other first world civilization.

        Like it or not, human life is cheap. The same people that harp on all fertilized eggs being sacred are also the same people who demand that lethal force be legal and widespread for one’s personal protection, when in today’s world there are many non-lethal means of self protection, like mace or taser or whatever.

        The irony doesn’t stop there. The same people who claim all babies are sacred also tend to be the most vocal about ensuring that profits of corporations not be impinged, so those little babies should just have to live in a world of unclean water and air. You know, because the guys who wrote the Constitution happened to be sitting on a pristine continent that hadn’t yet been totally pillaged by polluting profiteers.

        Then we get into messy stuff like genocide. The thousands of mothers around the world who use birth control in order to prevent unwanted pregnancy because they are FORCED into sex by local custom, by abusive relationships, etc, are the last to get help by the many outspoken religious radicals who decry abortion. When the mother cannot sustain or education a healthy child, who adopts the child? The wacko shooters terrorizing women’s health cliniics (which provide all manner of health services, with abortion always the last resort) – how many children did they adopt? The preemies and crack babies who need intensive medical care — who pays for them? I assure you that your saviour does not provide alimony when the real biological father splits.

        Having an inhabitable planet requires population control, now more than ever. At some point we have to set aside the crude dusty texts we used when the planet was not overpopulated, and start managing the world as if we were entrusted with the long-term health and well being of EVERYONE on the planet. Like every well tended garden, there are weeds that must be removed. Sorry, that’s reality.

          1. Why, exactly, is Obama a criminal? What evidence do you have, or have proof of, that would stand up in a court of law sufficient to prove, beyond reasonable doubt (the criminal law standard), that Obama is a criminal?
            I’m thinking of the sort of proof that got Cheney’s Chief of Staff Scooter Libby sentenced to 30 months plus 400 hours of community service plus a $250k fine.
            So to be clear, just your opinion doesn’t count.

      2. “a woman’s “right” ends at the conception of a new life.”
        Possibly the dumbest comment I’ve ever read on MDN.
        Congratulations, botvinnik! I would have sworn it would First This than That.

          1. Chewy, your opinion is noted.

            We live in an era where respect for others seems to be at an all-time low. Maybe you are a misanthrope, and that’s completely within your rights, but I find MacUsers argument compelling. I doubt that Mr. Right is an uneducated tramp parasite of society. The problem is, today the people with the most resources to raise healthy children are the least likely people to reproduce. The women who reproduce often are forced into it, or by carelessness, or stupidity of youth, and are completely unequipped to raise a child. We know from experience, too, that foster parents are in short supply.

            There may have been a time when maximum fertility was desirable to offset the ravages of disease but today the opposite is true. Major parts of the world are overpopulated with inability to provide any decent quality of life. The problem isn’t just in the 3rd world, it’s right under your5 nose in American Inner cities, infested with multiple generations of dependency, households that do not and never will foster healthy productive members of society. Or you have the proud catholic mexican family who uses no form of sexual restraint, so the overpopulation of kids in Mexico have basically 2 choices for a meaningful life: attempt to get into the USA over the Great Trump Wall, or to join the drug gangs that run the country. It would seem that the extreme religious right would prefer to have unfit or under-resourced mothers breed more fodder for gangs and illegal immigration than to solve the problem with birth control or like MU said, as a last resort, abortion.

            But noooooo, botty wants to have his gun so he can shoot gang members and other criminals, and Chewy would like for anyone who disagrees with him to be removed from society.

            If there is such a thing as mercy killing, it’s hard to argue that it is better to allow kids to be raised without hope, and then lock up millions of them in prisons when they act as we all know that desperate uneducated, ill-raised humans act. I instances where a child’s life is nothing but disease and pestilence, a burden to those would can’t even sustain themselves, and when foster parents cannot be found, then abortion may be the least painful way to end suffering for everyone. At least, that’s probably what they will say in the distant future when overpopulation of the planet really kicks in to make the final resource wars really intense.

            I also support a patient’s right to choose their own end of life rather than allowing the hyperactive medical industry from wringing out every dime possible from elderly patients with drugs and treatments that serve only to prolong the suffering. Sorry if that goes against your 2000 year old textbook.

    1. To the man on the street it’s B).

      To corporations and the politicians they sponsor, it’s A)…because FUD is a valuable tool, one of several that must be employed in the never-ending battle for economic primacy, which confers the power to decide all social issues. Citizen Rights come into play only when the overlords need bait — a red herring, or a consolation prize — to bolster their position at the top of the food chain.

      The game isn’t a simple one of truth or fairness; it’s about making the tough choices to maintain a qualified upper class: one wise enough, rich enough, and ruthless enough to guide and safeguard civilisation itself in a world fraught with uncertainty — a world that can’t handle the real truth.

      (Got this from viewing THX1138 the other day)

  4. Freedom is important… But, it is at risk too. The “government” gets criticized when doing too much… AND when it doesn’t do enough. If you don’t want no control at all, don’t go pouring tears when the next massacre happens…

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