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The Atlantic's piece on defending iPhones points out that FBI head James Comey, is scheduled to give a speech Thursday as "part of a sustained effort to sway the debate over encryption, or what the FBI calls devices 'going dark,' thwarting efforts to solve robberies, kidnapping, and other crimes." Comey's arguments are ultimately misleading and wrongheaded, as Cato's Julian Sanchez explains in "a definitive essay" [wherein] Sanchez debunks the notion that Apple or anyone else is setting an alarming new precedent with its encryption:"

Acknowledging that encryption may nevertheless be growing easier and more prevalent, in a way that will sometimes thwart law enforcement from solving crimes, Sanchez shows that the case against backdoors for law enforcement is nevertheless strong. [...]

I'd only add that, even ignoring all these benefits of backdoor-free encryption, the practice is necessary as a response to a federal government that routinely intrudes into the private communications of Americans suspected of no crime, rather than respecting privacy except in cases where an individualized warrant is obtained. Perhaps if the Bush administration hadn't embarked on an illegal program of warrantless wiretapping, if the telecoms wouldn't have been given retroactive immunity for their unlawful behavior, and if Edward Snowden hadn't shown that U.S. officials lied under oath about a program of mass surveillance, Americans would feel less need to build safes that not even the state can unlock.

Sanchez' essay does indeed note that "criminals have had access to backdoor-free encryption for many, many years before Apple announced its new policy without ushering in a terrifying new age of unstoppable criminals and impotent police." He goes on to provide some much-needed context:

Law enforcement may moan that they are "going dark" when some particular innovation makes their jobs more difficult (while improving the security of law-abiding people's private data), but when we consider the bigger picture, it is far easier to agree with the experts who have dubbed our era the Golden Age of Surveillance. Year after year, technology opens a thousand new windows to our government monitors. If we aim to preserve an "equilibrium" between government power and citizen privacy, we should accept that it will occasionally close one as well.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on October 16, 2014 11:25 AM.

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