Evil Companies Making Life Harder for the Snoops …

Apple and Google both recently announced that they would implement new measures designed to ensure the privacy of users of their hardware. This is a long overdue reaction to what has been revealed about blanket spying by the government on the citizenry and the legal sophistry the government has employed (successfully so far) to ward off constitutional challenges to its all-encompassing snooping.

In order to avoid having to comply with secret surveillance orders, first Apple, and a bit later Google as well, decided to simply make it impossible for themselves to crack the encryption of the hardware they sell to their customers. As a result, they will no longer be able to obey government orders to provide access to their phones. It would be akin to government ordering them to make it rain, or to make the sun come up an hour earlier. Sorry, boys, can’t be done.

It was probably inevitable that the government’s law and order minions would complain about this. However, they wisely didn’t wheel out James Clapper (one of the few people in the world able to commit perjury in a Congress hearing without having to fear even the slightest negative consequences. We leave you to guess why this is so), but rather FBI chief James Comey. The Washington Post reports:

 

“FBI Director James B. Comey sharply criticized Apple and Google on Thursday for developing forms of smartphone encryption so secure that law enforcement officials cannot easily gain access to information stored on the devices — even when they have valid search warrants.

His comments were the most forceful yet from a top government official but echo a chorus of denunciation from law enforcement officials nationwide. Police have said that the ability to search photos, messages and Web histories on smartphones is essential to solving a range of serious crimes, including murder, child pornography and attempted terrorist attacks.

“There will come a day when it will matter a great deal to the lives of people . . . that we will be able to gain access” to such devices, Comey told reporters in a briefing. “I want to have that conversation [with companies responsible] before that day comes.”

Comey added that FBI officials already have made initial contact with the two companies, which announced their new smart phone encryption initiatives last week. He said he could not understand why companies would “market something expressly to allow people to place themselves beyond the law.”

[…]

Not all of the high-tech tools favored by police are in peril. They can still seek records of calls or texts from cellular carriers, eavesdrop on conversations and, based on the cell towers used, determine the general locations of suspects. Police can seek data backed up on remote cloud services, which increasingly keep copies of the data collected by smartphones. And the most sophisticated law enforcement agencies can deliver malicious software to phones capable of making them spy on users.

Yet the devices themselves are gradually moving beyond the reach of police in a range of circumstances, prompting ire from investigators. Frustration is running particularly high at Apple, which made the first announcement about new encryption and is moving much more swiftly than Google to get it into the hands of consumers.

“Apple will become the phone of choice for the pedophile,” said John J. Escalante, chief of detectives for Chicago’s police department. “The average pedophile at this point is probably thinking, I’ve got to get an Apple phone.”

The rising use of encryption is already taking a toll on the ability of law enforcement officials to collect evidence from smartphones. Apple in particular has been introducing tough new security measures for more than two years that have made it difficult for police armed with cracking software to break in. The new encryption is significantly tougher, experts say.

“There are some things you can do. There are some things the NSA can do. For the average mortal, I’d say they’re probably out of luck,” said Jonathan Zdziarski, a forensics researcher based in New Hampshire.

 

(emphasis added)

Think about the children! Obviously, Apple tried to corner the giant pedophiles market, but in the future will have to contend with competition from that other lover of child-molesters and terrorists, Google. The evilness of these companies is palpable.

One wonders how the police ever managed to solve a single crime before there were smart phones. How did they do it? Why did there never “come a time when it mattered a great deal to the lives of people” that the investigation of crimes wasn’t made easier by giving the police unfettered access the content of smart phones? How did the earth even keep turning before there were smart phones?

Mr. Comey alleges that Apple and Google are helping “people to place themselves beyond the law”. We wonder if he was able to keep a straight face when making this assertion. What will he complain about next? The fact that people are putting curtains on their windows?

The police of course always want their work to be as easy as possible. In recent decades, they have chipped away quite successfully at the legal framework that previously constrained them. For instance, civil forfeiture has become such a widespread practice (whereby the police can confiscate anyone’s cash on the mere suspicion that it may represent ill-gotten gains) that Canada has recently begun to warn its citizens not to take any cash with them when traveling to the US.

No-one has a duty to forfeit his privacy just to make the police’s work easier. Search and seizure were evidently of great concern to the founders, and they included a amendment in the US constitution to ensure its use was strictly circumscribed. If the police have a lawful search warrant, there are legal means to compel the individuals concerned to comply with it. Those do not depend on whether or not smart phones have strong encryption.

 

gty_James_Comey_nt_130620_wblogFBI director James Comey, wearing the grim expression appropriate to a chief law enforcer

(Photo credit: Tom Williams / Roll Call / Getty Images)

 

Below is a sample of comments by readers of the WP article, which we found to be quite interesting – it seems pretty clear from this where the public stands on the issue:

 

“ “Police have said that the ability to search photos, messages and Web histories on smartphones is essential to solving a range of serious crimes, including murder, child pornography and attempted terrorist attacks.”

“Essential”? No. “Helpful”? Yes.  So are waterboarding, warrantlesss searches, and wiretaps, but that doesn’t mean they’re constitutional or necessary for the continuation of the nation.”

———

“Encryption, which I’ve been using on my Android for for a few years now is also to protect company secrets, keep information about bank accounts out of the hands of hackers and pillow talk between consenting adults a private and not public conversation. It’s absurd to say it’s to posit that it’s specifically to put people outside the law. […] Also they start from the assumption that government and the people within it’s authority are inherently good. Not all governments are good and I don’t believe all any government is has ever been good all of the time. The individuals within the authority structure as well could abuse compromised security. The whole thing is absurd! It’s laziness on the part of law enforcement.”

———–

“They also want to ban secret writing on notebook paper. Jail time.”

———

“Of course criminals will take advantage of it, but so will many, many law-abiding citizens who simply want their constitutional rights protected. Law enforcement created the demand for this technology by running roughshod over privacy concerns and overstepping their bounds, so they have only themselves to blame.”

———-

“Tell you what, I’ll show you mine if you show me yours. If we are required to let government look at all our data, then every government official’s personal data should be available to any citizen of the USA (or anywhere for that matter) for us to look at. After all, aren’t WE employing THEM?”

———

“Because this is America, or whats left of it..I do not want to give up any more freedoms for so called security, in fact, I propose we start reversing this already invasive, bloated, out of control government.”

———

“Why should 320,000,000 people sacrifice privacy to help the feds abuse the
4th amendment?”

———-

“Clearly Comey has long been steeped in “War on Drugs” and “War on Terror” propaganda. Right now he would do better to concentrate more on forcing the DoJ to face up to what it should be doing to redress the consequences resulting from years of bogus FBI science and trial testimony by incompetent FBI “experts”.”

[ed. note: he is referring to this scandal]

———

“Why should policing be easy or cheap? Buy some better decryption software instead of SWAT team equipment and tanks. […]

It isn’t the cops phone — it is your phone. If the cops want the phone to be capable of spying on you, they should pay for it. Then, it is their phone. Right now, the cops are complaining because they can no longer get free surveillance. Oh, and if people didn’t abuse the access to cell phone data, it wouldn’t be a marketing advantage to frustrate that access. This is why you can’t have nice things. Go back to shooting unarmed civilians and other scary black people.”

———

“Oh, that is shameful on the part of the tech companies– making it difficult to eavesdrop on phones. Now LE will have a much more difficult time solving lost-pet crimes!! I do not want to live in a country where all crimes can be solved because of a loss of liberty. I do not want to live in a country where there are no crimes because of a loss of liberty. Comey, how about mandating cameras in every room in homes and in every car. Better still: Mandate that citizens be fitted with devices that record everything they say or do, and the recordings are passed on continuously to LE.”

———-

“[…] a warrant to search doesn’t actually mean that the owner of the object that you require a search actually facilitate it for you. Failure to comply with a warrant has remedies, like contempt of court, etc that allows the courts to indefinitely confine you until you comply.”

———-

“It would also be helpful to prevent crime by putting cameras in everybody’s homes. Bur that doesn’t mean we should do it. Apple and Google have put a a system in place that makes it very difficult for law enforcement to abuse. If we learned anything from Snowden, it’s that’s law enforcement abuses this type of data collection regularly without consequence, and blatantly lies about it.”

————

“The politics of advancing freedom vs. security are over 200 years old, but they are more relevant today than ever: If you are willing to trade your personal privacy to achieve some kind of collective safety, then you deserve neither.”

———–

“We live in a country where a man has been jailed for making a film that embarrassed the ruling regime and where the IRS and other agencies regularly persecute people based on their political beliefs. There are so many laws criminalizing behavior where there are no victims that everyone can always be jailed for something. Just the other day the Park Service announced that it intends to require $1500 permits for any sort of filming on public lands and that it will screen such filming for content when deciding whether to approve the permits. If you don’t lock your phone when you video your kids in a national park you could be fined or jailed under this law should they find the video.
Given the nature of our government only a fool would allow them unfettered access to any information whatsoever. Then they have the arrogance and gall to turn around and wonder why people both fear and loath them?”

 

The comments go on and on in this vein, so evidently when the public is weighing the trade-offs between liberty and security these days, it is predominantly coming to conclusions that are diametrically opposed to those of the FBI chief. The new privacy-enhancing policy announced by Apple and Google seems a lot more popular with the public than with the complainers in law enforcement circles.

As an aside, a number of readers also voiced the suspicion that the whole brou-ha-ha is simply a trick, and that the ability of law enforcement to crack phone encryption will remain undiminished. This cannot be ruled out, but we think it actually unlikely. We mainly mention this because it shows that trust in the government has eroded quite a bit.

Credit for the term “creeptard” and we used in the title of this post (and variations thereof) actually belongs to one Jack Thomas, who wrote:

 

“I, personally, do not want any over-empowered, non-transparent, illegal, wrong psychopaths creeptarding into my phone or personal life.”

 

 

skypeThey’ve cracked this one …

(Image via jokeroo.com)

 

Reflection of Social Concerns and Social Conditioning in Movies

As we have mentioned on previous occasions, a lot can be gleaned from observing which social concerns are reflected movies and TV shows, or conversely, how these forms of entertainment are often playing a role in social conditioning. For instance, crime thrillers made in the 1970s very often contained references to the strong legal protections of privacy the 4th amendment provides. Police were continually portrayed as struggling with having to comply with the required procedures, with judges often shown to be quite sympathetic to a highly restrictive interpretation of the law.

The mood changed after the 9-11 attacks. Quite frequently we would even see police in standard fare police procedural drama shows on TV threatening to invoke the powers of the PATRIOT Act when compelling recalcitrant criminals to obey them. Instead of the morally ambiguous characters that were often shown to be in the employ of law enforcement agencies in the 1970s, the police tended to almost always be portrayed as morally superior people who would never make mistakes or consider putting their personal interests before those of justice. Even the occasional flawed character would not allow these flaws to detract from the moral purity of his law enforcement activities.

Then we got characters like Jack Bauer in “24”, who is constantly confronted with “ticking bomb” scenarios that are giving him leeway to kill, torture and maim his way through the series without the slightest regard for due process (to be fair, he gets in turn frequently tortured by the bad guys as well). Naturally, this is inter alia what makes the show interesting for viewers, but it is also a kind of social conditioning: we are expected to regard such behavior as perfectly normal and justifiable, which it would likely be in the eyes of most people in a real “ticking bomb” scenario. Such scenarios simply don’t exist in real life though. The problem is that politicians, spooks and law enforcers all make as if there were nothing but such scenarios. The “ticking bomb” justification for the march toward instituting a police state or a perpetual warfare state (the latter is evidently already in full flower) is truly lame, but it seems to have worked for quite some time.

 

Bauer interrogationBad guy, already looking a bit worse for wear, on the receiving end of a Bauer interrogation

 

Anyway, we are mainly bringing this up because we have the impression that lately, movie and TV entertainment is more frequently moving the other way again and beginning to reflect growing concerns about the State’s arrogation of ever more power to itself under the cover of providing “security”. If this impression is correct, it would indicate that a backlash is underway – something that can be seen in the reaction of readers to the WP article discussed above as well. This backlash also explains why a slightly maverick politician with libertarian leanings like Rand Paul is no longer regarded as an “impossible” candidate for the presidency (even though we believe that it is still more likely that some sort of neo-con establishment type will ultimately prevail in the nomination process this time).

 

Conclusion:

Society and the State appear to be increasingly at odds over the move toward an ever more authoritarian system. People seem to be getting tired of the constant scaremongering that is used to justify the erosion of liberty in the name of an ephemeral security.

 

 

antipat4A sign used by rebellious librarians in Vermont in protest against the PATRIOT Act provision that allows the FBI to snoop on what people read, while making it illegal for libraries to tell them about it. This is a legal way to dispense a warning anyway.

 

 

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4 Responses to “Government Creeptards Complain About Private Sector Privacy Measures”

  • Awakening:

    Robert Wenzel at EconomicPolicyJournal.com has extensively documented Rand Paul’s wolf in sheep’s clothing tendencies. He will say or do anything depending upon how it is polling, rather than sticking to his principles. He is nothing like his father.

  • No6:

    Candidate Obama promised to stop much of this, any future poly saying the same must be treated with extreme scepticism.

  • VB:

    “As an aside, a number of readers also voiced the suspicion that the whole brou-ha-ha is simply a trick, and that the ability of law enforcement to crack phone encryption will remain undiminished.”

    Count me among these readers. Both iOS and Android do not encrypt the whole device – only the “user data” directories. At least Android uses the same PIN to unlock the device and to decrypt the encrypted partition – which means that people are likely to select a short and insecure key.

    Comey’s words are just for show. The FBI will grumble, Apple & Goodle will make marketing claims about their “encryption” and everything will proceed as before.

    Remember, you don’t have a smartphone. You have a spying device that lets you make phone calls.

  • zerobs:

    Police were continually portrayed as struggling with having to comply with the required procedures, with judges often shown to be quite sympathetic to a highly restrictive interpretation of the law.

    The mood changed after the 9-11 attacks. Quite frequently we would even see police in standard fare police procedural drama shows on TV threatening to invoke the powers of the PATRIOT Act when compelling recalcitrant criminals to obey them.

    This is why I follow a policy of never watching a TV show or movie about government employees. This eliminates 98% of television shows and 100% of Hollywood “action” movies.

    I’ve made an exception for Boardwalk Empire because the entire government is clearly the bad guys in that show.

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