WaPost: Obama Administration studied how to get past smart phone encryption

The Obama Administration’s “War on Privacy” took another turn when it was revealed they tried to figure out a way to get past the encryption of smart phones. The Washington Post got a hold of a memo which looked at possibly getting help from tech and telephone companies.

The first potential solution called for providers to add a physical, encrypted port to their devices. Companies would maintain a separate set of keys to unlock devices, using that port only if law enforcement had physical access to a device and obtained a court order to compel the company’s assistance…

The second approach would exploit companies’ automatic software updates. Under a court order, the company could insert spyware onto targeted customers’ phones or tablets — essentially hacking the device…

A third idea described splitting up encryption keys, a possibility floated by National Security Agency director Michael S. Rogers earlier this year. That would require companies to create a way to unlock encrypted content, but divide the key into several pieces — to be combined only under court order…

Under the final approach, which officials called a “forced backup,” companies under court order would be required to upload data stored on an encrypted device to an unencrypted location.

Those sounds you’re now hearing are privacy advocates screaming, “NOOOOOOO!” at the top of their lungs, a lot like Kirk screamed “KHAAAN!!!” This is absolutely awful and a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment and possibly the Fifth. It also goes completely against what FBI Director James Comey told the Bookings Institute last year when he promised that law enforcement was going to use the front door “with clarity and transparency” to get a hold of data. The ideas floated by the Obama Administration as a way to get data aren’t even backdoor, they’re cutting a hole in the roof and sneaking in through the walls. Of course, the Obama Administration realized this (in one of their rare moments of clarity) and decided to kill the proposals or at least put them on the backburner (emphasis mine).

“Any proposed solution almost certainly would quickly become a focal point for attacks…Rather than sparking more discussion, government-proposed technical approaches would almost certainly be perceived as proposals to introduce ‘backdoors’ or vulnerabilities in technology products and services and increase tensions rather [than] build cooperation.

This is just another example as to what happens when government and business become best buddies. I’ve written before on how AT&T and Verizon were getting paid by the government for information, and how much in specific tax breaks they were given by the government in the “stimulus package.” But it’s obvious the Obama Administration is trying to mend fences with the telecom industry because they want to keep the information link going. AT&T and Verizon were roasted over the proverbial coals in 2013 for their involvement with NSA spying, with one stakeholder telling Time Magazine they needed to be more transparent.

“AT&T’s failure to disclose what customer information it shares with U.S. and foreign governments presents significant risk to shareholder value,” said New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, trustee of the fund. “Transparency allows investors to make informed decisions about corporate behavior. Publishing regular reports on requests for information from governments would be an appropriate response to shareholder and customer concerns about trust and privacy in the digital world.”

There’s the rub when it comes to why the Administration probably didn’t bother pursuing the backdoor entries into phones. They want the telecom industry’s help and short of demanding their participation (which one intel official said in 2013 was possible) the government is forced to “play nice” and hand out favors. This is why there needs to be a clear separation of business and state or at least more of a gap between them. It means not only getting rid of specific tax breaks for businesses, but massively lowering the corporate tax rate so businesses can keep more of their cash.

This probably won’t happen because both sides enjoy the gravy train. For companies, it means getting a little extra dough they wouldn’t normally get. For the government, it means having another group they can mostly force to bend to their will, or at least bribe to cooperate. This is why it’s important for people to hold companies and politicians accountable when they do things which aren’t in line with freedom and liberty. Boycotts only go so far, but there’s nothing wrong with calling into a company to tell them your opinion. If they decide to keep working with the government, then switch to a different one. The same goes for politicians. Call them. Hold them accountable. If they don’t listen, find a better candidate and vote the previous one out. It’s thinking long-term, while also pushing for short-term change. This is honestly a fight worth waging, even if it takes years to get done.