If only the endlessly-escalating West Coast cost of living could have prevented this:
Today I am pleased to announce that the Department of Homeland Security is also finalizing plans to open up a satellite office in Silicon Valley, to serve as another point of contact with our friends here. We want to strengthen critical relationships in Silicon Valley and ensure that the government and the private sector benefit from each other’s research and development.
That’s Jeh Johnson addressing the crowd at the RSA Conference. Of all the news no one wanted to hear, this has to be close to the top of the list. Three-lettered government agencies are pretty much NIMBY as far as the tech world is concerned, especially after Snowden’s revelations have seriously and swiftly eroded trust in the government.
No one wants a next-door neighbor who’s going to constantly be dropping by for a cup of decryption.
The current course we are on, toward deeper and deeper encryption in response to the demands of the marketplace, is one that presents real challenges for those in law enforcement and national security.
Let me be clear: I understand the importance of what encryption brings to privacy. But, imagine the problems if, well after the advent of the telephone, the warrant authority of the government to investigate crime had extended only to the U.S. mail.
Our inability to access encrypted information poses public safety challenges. In fact, encryption is making it harder for your government to find criminal activity, and potential terrorist activity.
We in government know that a solution to this dilemma must take full account of the privacy rights and expectations of the American public, the state of the technology, and the cybersecurity of American businesses.
We need your help to find the solution.
“Let me be clear: I understand the importance of what doors bring to privacy. But, imagine the problems if, well after humanity moved out of caves, the warrant authority of the government to investigate crime had only extended to dwellings without doors.”
Bullshit. The DHS, along with other law enforcement agencies — is seeking is the path of least resistance. It can get warrants to search encrypted devices. It just may not be able to immediately crack them open and feast on the innards. It may also get court orders to compel decryption. This is far less assured and risks dragging the Fifth Amendment down to the Fourth’s level, but it’s still an option.
Then there’s the option of subpoenaing third parties, like cloud storage services, to find the content that can’t be accessed on the phone. So, it’s not as though it’s locked out forever. This may happen occasionally but it won’t suddenly turn law enforcement into a wholly futile pursuit.
Silicon Valley isn’t going to help the DHS “find a solution.” There isn’t one. The DHS may as well get some legislation going and force companies to provide a stupid “good guys only” backdoor because the tech world already knows you can’t keep bad guys out with broken encryption. This should be painfully obvious and yet, the “good guy” agencies seem to think tech companies are just holding out on them.
From there, Johnson switches to his most disingenuous rhetorical device: the assertion that Americans are clamoring for an unrealistic level of safety.
I tell audiences that I can build you a perfectly safe city on a hill, but it will constitute a prison.
Who the fuck is asking you to do that? The only people pushing for “perfectly safe” are government agencies who like big budgets and increased power and the private companies that profit from this sort of fearmongering. Most Americans are far more pragmatic and they’d rather keep what’s left of their privacy and civil liberties, even if it means the safety of the country is slightly less assured.
And this makes me want to vomit with contempt:
In the name of homeland security, we can build more walls, erect more screening devices, interrogate more people, and make everybody suspicious of each other, but we should not do this at the cost of who we are as a nation of people who cherish privacy and freedom to travel, celebrate our diversity, and who are not afraid.
THAT IS LITERALLY ALL YOU HAVE DONE SINCE 2001.
In the name of “homeland security,” we have TSA agents groping people, breaking their luggage, humiliating people with medical issues and stealing personal belongings — all without ever having prevented a single attempted hijacking or bombing. In the name of “national security,” we have indulged every nosy do-gooder with numerous hotlines to report their neighbors’ ownership of luggage or cameras or pressure cookers. In the name of the “war on terror,” we have a 100-mile buffer zone around the nation’s borders that nearly completely eliminates every Constitutional protection.
Jeh Johnson hasn’t been in the position long, but he’s already descended into inadvertent self-parody. This speech was apparently delivered with complete sincerity, which means Johnson has no idea how his agency is perceived. There are very few people who believe the DHS is some sort of civil liberties champion. Jeh Johnson is obviously one of them.