More law enforcement officials are coming forward to express their dismay at Apple’s and Google’s decision to encrypt cellphones by default. And the hysteria seems to be getting worse. As was recently covered, FBI director James Comey stated that no one was above the law, while failing to realize there’s actually no law preventing Apple or Google from doing this.
The chief of the Chicago police went even further:
“Apple will become the phone of choice for the pedophile,” said John J. Escalante, chief of detectives for Chicago’s police department. “The average pedophile at this point is probably thinking, I’ve got to get an Apple phone.”
Now, Washington DC’s police chief, Cathy Lanier (who we’ve praised previously for her implementation and enforcement of a tough [on cops] citizen recording policy) is echoing Escalante’s ridiculous statement.
“This is a very bad idea,” said Cathy Lanier, chief of the Washington Metropolitan Police Department, in an interview. Smartphone communication is “going to be the preferred method of the pedophile and the criminal. We are going to lose a lot of investigative opportunities.”
First off, law enforcement rarely ever encounters encryption. These facts are borne out by the US Courts’ annual statistics on warrant requests. That they’ll encounter it more often from now on has nothing to do with the scary stories they’ve been telling to justify their collective freakout. Those criminals didn’t use it, for the most part. And if they did, it was circumvented nearly 100% of the time.
Second, implying that pedophiles are suddenly going to start buying iPhones/Androids is a non-starter. Plenty of encryption options already exist and most pedophiles and criminals already own cellphones. Police have captured plenty of criminals and pedophiles without cracking encryption. See “first off” above.
Third, and this is where the irony sets in, Lanier’s department is a big fan of encryption. From 2011:
D.C. police became one of the latest departments to adopt the practice [encrypting police radio communications] this fall. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said recently that a group of burglars who police believe were following radio communications on their smartphones pulled off more than a dozen crimes before ultimately being arrested and that drug dealers fled a laundromat after a sergeant used his radio to call in other officers — suggesting that they, too, might have been listening in.
“Whereas listeners used to be tied to stationary scanners, new technology has allowed people — and especially criminals — to listen to police communications on a smartphone from anywhere,” Lanier testified at a D.C. Council committee hearing this month. “When a potential criminal can evade capture and learn, ‘There’s an app for that,’ it’s time to change our practices.”
Journalist wondered what sort of impact this decision would have on public safety, if only certain individuals were allowed to hear as-it-happens discussions of dangerous events. All the cops could think about was the ones that got away. Now the encryption’s on the other end and the police are using both the public safety argument and counting their escaped criminals before they’ve actually escaped justice.
I guess encryption only works for the government. All others need not apply. Lanier’s statement — combined with the DCPD’s encrypted transmissions — means she only wants to encrypt the communications of the department’s “pedophiles and criminals.”
Now, going back to James Comey complaining about Apple and Google being above the law. Nothing that exists can legally prevent them from providing this encryption to their customers… at least for now. Surfing high on a wave of hysteria, former FBI Counsel Andrew Weissman has arrived to push for exactly that: new laws.
“They have created a system that is a free-for-all for criminals,” said Weissmann, a law professor at New York University. “It’s the wrong balancing act. Having court-ordered access to telephones is essential to thwart criminal acts and terrorist acts.”
Weissmann said there was little the Justice Department could do to stop the emerging policies. The companies are permitted to have encryption systems. The only way to ensure law enforcement access is for Congress to pass legislation, he said.
The answer to a move prompted by the exposure of government overreach is… more government overreach. Weissman’s horrendous idea will find some sympathetic ears in Congress, but not nearly as many as it would have found a few years ago. Any legislation prompted by law enforcement officials’ iPedophile hallucinations will be decidedly terrible and loaded with negative side effects and collateral damage.
And let’s not forget that, since the beginning of criminal activity, there have always been panics about new technology placing ne’er-do-wells ahead of pursuing flatfoots. Here’s one from 1922, pointed out by the ACLU’s Chris Soghoian:
Here’s a text version:
The automobile is a swift and powerful vehicle of recent development, which has multiplied by quantity production and taken possession of our highways in battalions, until the slower, animal-drawn vehicles, with their easily noted individuality, are rare. Constructed as covered vehicles to standard form in immense quantities, and with a capacity for speed rivaling express trains, they furnish for successful commission of crime a disguising means of silent approach and swift escape unknown in the history of the world before their advent. The question of their police control and reasonable search on highways or other public places is a serious question.
The baffling extent to which they are successfully utilised to facilitate commission of crime of all degrees, from those against morality, chastity, and decency to robbery, rape, burglary, and murder, is a matter of common knowledge. Upon that problem a condition and not a theory confronts proper administration of our criminal laws.
Law enforcement techno-panic. Dating all the way back to the “silent approach” of a 1920’s-era internal combustion engine.