US Congressman: FBI Is Exploiting Tragedy To Push Its Encryption Agenda

Congressman: FBI Is Exploiting Tragedy to Push Its Encryption Agenda

Key players in the fight between Apple and the US government are testifying at a Congressional hearing today — but the most interesting remarks so far came from a Rep John Conyers (D-Mich.), who suggested that the government is trying to exploit a terrorist attack to expand its surveillance programs. Conyers explicitly questioned the motives of the government during time allowed for questioning. He said he believes the government's choice to ask a federal magistrate to provide special access, instead of asking Congress, has to do with a letter obtained by the Washington Post last year. That letter was written by Director of National Intelligence general counsel Robert Litt.

"The legislative environment is very hostile today," Litt wrote in the memo. "It could turn in the event of a terrorist attack or criminal event where strong encryption can be shown to have hindered law enforcement."

"I'm deeply concerned by this cynical mindset, and I would be deeply disappointed if it is found that the government was exploiting a national tragedy," Conyers said.

Conyers also questioned the US government's use of the All Writs Act to compel Apple, referencing the court order issued yesterday in a New York-based drug case that rejected use of the same act to compel Apple to unlock a suspect's phone.



    who suggested that the government is trying to exploit a terrorist attack to expand its surveillance programs.
    Which is what pretty much everyone that understands the situation is saying, but it's always good to hear a congressman say it.

    Illuminati says the Government is performing terrorist attacks and then exploiting them ;)

      Well its not like they actually haven't thought of doing it.

    The US law enforcement are in a bit of a no-win situation with their citizens. They said encryption was hampering investigations, the public responded with "Pfft, you can't prove that". So some nutjob kills a lot of people and the FBI point to it and say "See" and the citizens respond with "You're using a tragedy to manipulate us!"

    Though, it seems fairly standard politicking for one side to take a position or issues a dire warning, the other side to call for proof, the first side points to a tragedy as proof and the second side claims that they're trying to play politics with tragedy.

    It happens with the gun debate in the US quite frequently. Maybe the pro-encryption people are taking a leaf out of the NRA's playbook. It's worked pretty well for them for years.

      The FBI aren't pointing to it and saying "See", they still have no idea what is on the phone and they didn't have it before the attack, so it wouldn't have helped them with that anyway.

      The only way they could possibly be justified in saying, "See", is if the following sequence of events occur:
      1. Another terrorist attack takes place.
      2. They then gain access to the phone.
      3. They find actionable intel that could have prevented that terrorist attack.

      What the american citizens are actually saying is "Pfft, you STILL can't prove that AND you're using a tragedy to manipulate us!"

        You view of the investigation is a little narrow. If we broaden it a little bit you could easily imagine someone communicates on iMessage and plans something, it is not subject to lawful interception. Could the lawful interception of this conversation have prevented anything?. Who knows. Then an offence is committed and a device seized. Could the information on the device lead to the arrest of further persons? Intelligence gleaned from the device could stop further attacks. Or the iPhone could be simply choc-full of dickpics. No-one really knows.

        As an example, look at the shooting murder of NSWPF accountant Curtis Cheng. The actual shooter is dead, however the investigation is ongoing and there have been around 5 other people charged with terrorism-related offences relating to Mr Cheng's murder. What if all their communications occurred on encrypted networks? Do you think that would hamper that investigation? I do.

        What if the San Bernardino investigation is similar? What if there is information on the device that can lead to the arrest of further people? What if it leads to people being identified and them being watched and simply due to them being watched by Police it discourages an attack? What if it shows how a terrorist is being funded, and the FBI manage to shut down the money trial? There is a myriad of really important information and actions that can come from this stuff, and not all of it is going to be as obvious or dramatic as SWAT team turning up and shooting it out with badguys in 4k slow-mo in front of the 6 O'clock news with the FBI saying "Hah! The bloke used a Nokia!"

        The problem is no-one knows (which is sort of the point of encryption). Without defeating the encryption itself, you could never show how that information could be used.

        I'm not saying that encrypted data completely defeats all investigations all the time under all circumstances. I'm saying that it hampers it. Sometimes a lot, sometimes a little. But either way, it's still a problem.

        Can we at least agree that in this particular instance, the FBI investigating mass murder is good for the community? Shouldn't they be doing everything they possibly can to investigate, or should they only put in a little bit of effort and break for lunch? If someone you know was murdered, I'd imagine that you'd want the Police to exert every effort to hunt down the person who did it. If your family member was seriously injured or killed and you thought something on my phone could help find the person responsible and you asked as Supreme Court Judge for an order to me to give you the phone and I said "Judge? Nup, freedom.", I'd imagine you'd be pretty annoyed.

          There are plenty of things that could "Hamper an investigation". If only we could compel criminals and terrorists to confess and implicate all of their associates, truth serums or lie detectors or good old fashioned beatings. Even if none invasive mind reading devices existed, I doubt it would be legal to use them, as it would go against self incrimination laws. Of course that wouldn't stop governments from using emotional events such as these to push for 'Special Circumstances' in which to use them.

          If my family member was seriously injured or killed and I thought something you knew could help find the person responsible, and I asked a Supreme Court Judge for an order to allow me to beat it out of you, and the Judge said "Nup, illegal.", I imagine I'd be pretty annoyed, but they'd be right to do it.

          So no we can't agree, erosion of liberties for one is erosion for all, and you're being naive, deliberately or otherwise, if you think this wouldn't be abused if allowed.

          It boils down to the expression "The end justifies the means", and whether or not you believe it, I don't. Fortunately most, if not all, western legal systems don't.

          My phone's encrypted, ain't no one seeing my dickpics.

            We can and do compel people to give evidence in relation to the ACC, NSWCC, ICAC and even Coroner's Court. Police officers themselves have a significantly reduced right to silence when they're questioned in relation to their conduct (compared to the average punter on the street).

            I see that we both agree that the Supreme Court should be the final arbiter of what does and doesn't fly (so to speak). Which is why the FBI is annoyed that the changes Apple made to its business model 2 years ago renders the Supreme Court issued search warrants fairly useless.

            I'm personally of the opinion that the Courts should get to determine what is and is not available to law enforcement to do their job. Apple shouldn't be allowed to (very cleverly - cudos to them) render them inoperative. What I mean by that is a search warrant is simply a legal mechanism to facilitate law enforcement getting their hands on physical items and information. Warrants have been around for several hundred years and have filled this role pretty well. But with the advent of recent encryption technology, having physical access to an encrypted deviceis pointless, as the real purpose of obtaining the item is to facilitate the extraction of the information.

            If a Court determines that information should be accessible, it's my opinion (and the FBI's apparently) that no-one gets to override the Court. Not the government, not the monarch, not a private company. No-one.

            I'm not entirely sure what liberties have been eroded (or are threatened to be eroded) by this Court case. I am curious about this. Because the 'erosion of liberties' and 'ends justifying the means' are terrifyingly emotive terms that I think we can all agree are 'bad', but if you'd like to be a bit more specific I'm happy to listen to you.

            As for your dickpics. It wouldn't matter if your phone was encrypted or otherwise, no-one's looking, no-one cares.

              I don't agree that The Supreme Court should be the final arbiter anywhere other than in the US, and that of course just raises further and more far reaching repercussions. Which governments are entitled to this tool/service? Any government in whose country Apple do business, including oppressive regimes, or just the one we pick as being OK? Who is protected by the requirement for a court order, only US citizens? If the UK intelligence services send the phone of a UK citizen to to a friend at the FBI or CIA, can they legally unlock it on their behalf? It's a slippery slope that should not be started down without a clear direction, and at present I have no faith that any intelligence service, of any country either has that direction, or has the altruism to be trusted without it.

              The liberty in question is the public' right to install effective encryption on their phone, but I'll tell you what, I promise not to use terribly emotive terms, if you promise not to use terribly emotive hypotheticals. Asking what would I want if someone hurt my family is moot, it's the reason why family members are not allowed on juries, they are not objective and juries must be impartial.

              What do you mean no one want's to see my dick pics, what's the matter with my dick, are you saying it's too small, too crooked, just ugly in general, is it not supposed to curve like that, omg that's so hurtful!!! Sorry, I was just trying to inject a bit of humor into the subject, my bad, serious topic is serious.

                I'm sorry, I didn't mean to insult your dick. I'm sure it's a huge hit at parties. :P

                Sorry, just steering the topic away from your dick for a second (not because there's anything wrong with it!), I think I can shed some light on your train of thought.

                When I say "The Supreme Court" I'm really just using it in relation to the US, because that's the jurisdiction that the relevant court case is happening in. Australian jurisdictions don't have an All Writs Act, or anything similar, but every jurisdiction has search warrants.

                I'm going to go out on a limb and assume the US is probably similar to Australia in that a Judge has to be satisfied that there are 'reasonable grounds' to issue the warrant in light of all the given circumstances. Sending evidence around the world to have it tampered with by people you cannot bring to your Court to give evidence of exactly what they did and how their procedures were in keeping with your jurisdiction's rules of evidence is dumb, the evidence would never make it into Court. That's of course assuming you could somehow get a Magistrate to agree to sign off on the warrant.

                The idea that non-US citizens are going to have their iPhones seized by Police around the world and sent to the US to have them unlocked is preposterous. If you're an Australian law enforcement officer and you want to access information held in the US you have to apply through your boss and his boss and his boss and his boss have your body's legal people approve the request. Then it goes to the AFP who contact their legal people to contact the AG's department who in turn contact our embassy in the US who arrange embassy staff briefed by the AG's dept to arrange to attend a US Court and have the warrant sworn out in the US. Attached AFP officers, then liaise with US local law enforcement to have them execute the warrant on the AFP's behalf, then hand the information to the AFP, who then give to back to Australia and then finally it gets passed back to you. The process is called an MLAT, which stands for a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty that exists between Australia and a whole heap of other countries (including the US) and, simple ones (like data from a data centre physically located in the US) to the US generally cost around $50,000 to process and take between 6 and 12 months. I'm pretty sure that unless you're an international drug cartel mob boss you're iPhone's dick pics are safe, because no-one has the time or money to bother with that crap... Not that I'm suggesting your dick is crap...

                You talk about the government, law enforcement and intelligence agencies like they're the same thing. They do different things and in the US, you're talking about literally millions of individual people working in entirely different fields with different goals and objectives. To suggest that it's one big machine humming along with a singular purpose and mind is just silly, like moon landing conspiracy silly. Whether you trust the US's NSA, or Russia's FSB, or Iran's Revolutionary Guard is irrelevant when you're talking about the FBI and utterly irrelevant when you try and translate it to Australia.

                I hate to be the one to tell you that ever since this country was formed, the Court has had the power to grant Police access to every single thing that you own and the power to take it from you, if it is deemed in the public interest. This is the norm for 115 years. Unassailable crytowizardry from one particular phone manufacturer has been an anomaly for almost 2 years. It's never really been a 'right' per se. You have a right to privacy, but that individual right is balanced against the rights of the community. And it's the Court that determines where that balance lies depending on each individual set of circumstances. THAT, is why the Court (of which ever land it's in) should be the final arbiter. Not the cops. Not the government. Not a private company.

                Last edited 03/03/16 4:32 pm

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now