[Cryptography] Jim Baker explains encryption to us

Phillip Hallam-Baker phill at hallambaker.com
Thu Oct 24 10:55:22 EDT 2019

On Wed, Oct 23, 2019 at 6:14 PM John Levine <johnl at iecc.com> wrote:

> In this longish piece in the Lawfare blog, former FBI counsel Jim
> Baker reiterates his take on the encrpytion debates.  There's a certain
> amount that makes me want to bang my head against the wall, e.g.
>   After working on the going dark problem for years, I'm confident
>   that this problem can be addressed from a technical perspective. In
>   most cases, it's just software, and software can be rewritten.
> But it's worth reading to remind us of what the other side is
> thinking, even with a lot of motivated reasoning that makes him
> conclude that Congress can pass some laws and the going dark
> problem will be solved.  (Please do not write and explain why
> he's mistaken.  We all know why.)

But is he actually wrong?

"But, for the reasons discussed above, public safety officials should also
become among the strongest supporters of widely available strong

There isn't a single set of arguments against backdoor encryption and some
of the arguments made are far weaker than many on this list imagine. This
is not a US issue, it is a global issue. Europeans are far better informed
on the origins and effects of the second amendment than its adherents

The argument that backdoor cryptography is technically infeasible is also
rather weaker than many imagine. A very large part of the reason the
telephone system failed to develop is that it was locked into an obsolete
architecture by the demand for intercept capability. In the UK, System X
had a feature that allowed any landline to be turned into a listening
device whether it was off the hook or not. Maintaining that capability
required that the choice of telephones available in the UK be limited to
the standard GPO model, the trimphone and a mickey mouse model.

Of course there are serious technical and political difficulties in
mandatory backdoor cryptography. Not least being that most of the computer
equipment sold in the US is made in  a police state with a million
political prisoners being held in internment camps in the North West
province. Does the US really want lawful intercept at the price of giving
China access as well?

But I am certainly not going to pretend that it is the technical concerns
that motivate my actions. I have purposefully designed the Mesh so as to be
as resistant to the introduction of backdoor cryptography as possible and I
am not going to pretend otherwise for imagined political expediency.

The reason we have to win this is that we simply cannot trust the FBI to
implement the checks and balances promised. The whole history of the
organization, from J. Edgar Hoovers political abuse of his powers to crush
the civil rights movements to Jim Comey's letter which put his thumb on the
scales of the 2016 election.

If we do indeed face a 'going dark' issue, then the FBI needs to begin by
demonstrating good faith itself. This must begin with the removal of the
name J. Edgar Hoover from its headquarters and the separation of the police
and counter-intelligence roles into separate agencies in separate
buildings. Such changes would not make me change my position but they are
the minimum needed to demonstrate a modicum of sincerity.

As most of you know, my personal family history means that my experience of
terrorism long predates 9/11. I find it really difficult to take the
purported opposition to terrorism seriously when the President's personal
lawyer is a man who for many years raised many millions of dollars to help
by bombs and bullets and guns to murder people in my country.

The US is about to impeach the President and quite possibly remove him from
office for systematic abuse of power. But I for one am not minded to
provide any covert surveillance capabilities to any country where one of
the major parties will tolerate a candidate for political office who
screams 'Lock her up!' as a staple of his Nuremberg rallies.
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