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Latest DOJ WTFness: Encryption Is Like A Locked House That Won't Let Its Owners Back Inside


Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein continues his push for law enforcement-friendly broken encryption. The ultimate goal is the same but the arguments just keep getting worse. Trying to pitch worthless encryption (i.e., encryption easily compromised in response to government demands) as "responsible" encryption is only the beginning of Rosenstein's logical fallacies.

After a month-plus of bad analogies and false equivalents, Rosenstein has managed to top himself. The path to Rosenstein's slaughtering of a metaphor runs through such highlights as the DAG claiming device encryption is solely motivated by profits and that this is the first time in history law enforcement hasn't had access to all forms of evidence. It's an intellectually dishonest campaign against encryption, propelled by the incredibly incorrect belief that the Fourth Amendment was written to provide the government with access, rather than to protect citizens from their government.

In a long article by Cyrus Farivar discussing a recent interview given by Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General drops this abomination of an analogy:

"I favor strong encryption, because the stronger the encryption, the more secure data is against criminals who are trying to commit fraud," he explained. "And I'm in favor of that, because that means less business for us prosecuting cases of people who have stolen data and hacked into computer networks and done all sorts of damage. So I'm in favor of strong encryption."

"This is, obviously, a related issue, but it's distinct, which is, what about cases where people are using electronic media to commit crimes? Having access to those devices is going to be critical to have evidence that we can present in court to prove the crime. I understand why some people merge the issues. I understand that they're related. But I think logically, we have to look at these differently. People want to secure their houses, but they still need to get in and out. Same issue here."

It is nowhere near the "same issue." I sincerely hope DAG Rosenstein regrets every word of this statement.

Let's streamline the analogy: People want to protect the data on their phones. People still want to be able to access this data on their phones. In no case ever has encryption prevented people from accessing the data on their phones. Forgotten passcodes might, but that's like losing house keys. You might need outside assistance to get back in.

Rosenstein's analogy skips a step. It has to. There's no way this analogy can ever work couched in Rosenstein's anti-encryption statements. People lock their houses when they leave and unlock them with their keys when they get back. Rosenstein's analogy is completely baffling, given the context of his remarks. How does strong security prevent people from "entering" their devices? It doesn't and Rosenstein knows this. It only prevents people other than the device owner from doing so.

What he's actually talking about is government access, but he can't find a credible argument for weakening the strong encryption he just claimed he believed in. And he doesn't have the intellectual honesty to say what he really means. The "they" in "but they still need to get in and out" is meant to encompass law enforcement agencies. In the context of Rosenstein's anti-encryption argument, that's the only interpretation that makes any sort of sense. Otherwise, it's a non sequitur -- one that claims strong security is somehow capable of preventing home owners from coming and going as they please.

A boneheaded analogy like this is the only rhetorical option left. That's because what Rosenstein wants -- easily-compromised "strong" encryption (i.e., "responsible encryption") -- simply cannot exist. Impossible demands can only be justified by implausible arguments. Given the swift and steady deterioration of Rosenstein's rhetoric, it's probably time to put his "Dead Horses and the Men Who Beat Them" show on ice.


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