Otus9051's Tech Adventures

Otus9051's Tech Adventures

The truth behind the weird privacy breaking laws nowadays.

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·May 9, 2022·

4 min read

For a very long time, law enforcement has been able to access the private communications and stored data (documents) of criminal suspects, ever since the early days of wiretapping and breaking into safes. Throughout the previous century, there were few technical obstacles to gaining access to a suspect's communications and documents. The most difficult part was obtaining the warrant. Eventually government agencies took that access for granted.

-> Many people in those agencies believe that nobody should be allowed to keep their communications and data private from lawful authorities when they want (need?) access for criminal investigations. They had forgotten the early controversies as well as the early legal challenges and rulings around wiretapping, nor the fact that people naturally had an expectation of private communications prior to the invention of electrical communications. They talked face to face.

Now, in a relatively short period of time, law enforcement is facing an "unprecedented disaster". What was once a single, common telephone and postal system has become a myriad of different channels - cell phone, texting, email, chat, gaming platforms, social media, the "dark web" etc. etc. etc. ... and many of them are encrypted and/or pseudonymous. It is not always easy to determine how suspects are communicating. That makes it very hard to identify the entity for presenting a warrant. Data is no longer confined within national boundaries, further complicating matters and introducing long delays. By the time a warrant can be processed, the data is often gone or the suspects have moved elsewhere.

Worse yet, technologists have made access to privacy enhancing capabilities available to the masses. Privacy technology is no longer confined to a relative few people "with clue." Much personal data and communications are now encrypted by default. In many cases, the provider lacks the capability to service the warrant. They cannot unlock their own users' encryption.

Operating under the belief that nobody should be allowed technology that blocks lawful access to data and communications, and facing a growing number of suspects who are successfully evading that lawful access, law enforcement agencies are lobbying their governments to do something (ANYTHING!!) to restore the lawful access capabilities that they have "always had." Don't blame them. Many of them are dedicated, honest people who are trying to protect the public in the best way they know how. That job is much harder now.

There have been many proposed (and sometimes deployed!) technical solutions to lawful access. A popular example is "key escrow." I could fill several books with all of the arguments over feasibility, trust, security, human rights, and much more ... on both sides. The discussions and arguments are complex and nuanced. I won't take sides here, but trust me when I tell you that it is easy to shoot down simple, hard-staked positions on either side. Whatever it is, it ain't simple.

The people in those agencies truly believe that it is technically feasible to create privacy enhancing technologies that include special, trusted, authorized access for law enforcement, and they want it mandated. They tell their legislators that such technology is feasible, safe, and secure. They warn of the anarchy and lawlessness that will happen if restrictions are not passed into law. Legislators do not have the time to understand or address the fine details and nuanced issues. Agencies have close ties and long experience getting the legislation they want. Those who object are a less organized hodgepodge of technology companies, privacy activists, and a handful of experts. Whose arguments do you think will win with legislators? They will give the law enforcement agencies what they want.

In the USA, the crypto wars of the 1990s never ended. What really happened was that government agencies paused and regrouped. They are now pursuing new approaches to gain the legislation that they believe will help them fight the "going dark" problem.

What happened in India is an understandable response to an unprecedented, huge new challenge that makes law enforcement much more difficult than it was before. The people dealing with it are ill-equipped to understand the subtleties, so they pass untenable (and probably unenforceable) laws.

(Originally posted by emg over at LowEndTalk)

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