Tech experts and industry representatives squared off against law enforcement officials in two sessions of lively testimony today in front of the House Energy and Commerce committee. Today’s hearing is the latest in the ongoing battle in the courts and legislature commonly called the second “Crypto Wars,” after a similar national debate in the 1990s.
Two witnesses on the law enforcement panel offered a chilling proposal to deal with the well-documented weakness that any domestic encryption ban would do little against the hundreds of encryption products developed and sold internationally. Thomas Galati of the NYPD and Charles Cohen of the Indiana State Police argued that software could be kept off American computing devices by exerting legal pressure on the Android, Apple, and Blackberry app stores.
That proposal would seem to leave to app store gatekeepers the nigh-impossible task of ensuring none of the software it carries comes with “warrant-proof” cryptographic options. But worse, it cuts right to the core of fundamental computing freedom questions and cues up the next legislative battle to address what software people are allowed to run on their devices.
It’s a scenario envisioned by EFF Special Advisor Cory Doctorow in his essay Lockdown: as long as we’re using the kinds of general purpose computers that power our phones, laptops, and increasingly everything else, the only way to remove capabilities is by requiring DRM software and other spyware to make sure users are in compliance.