US Deputy Attorney General Calls for Weakening Encryption
The Trump administration continues to give signs that it is willing to continue to fight the cryptowars which were reignited near the end of the Obama administration when the Department of Justice nearly had a federal court compel Apple to decrypt a dead terrorist’s iPhone. Earlier this month, the Deputy Attorney General of the United States, Rod Rosenstein, gave a prepared speech to naval cadets at the United States Naval Academy wherein the second in command at the Department of Justice repeatedly railed against tech companies such as Apple for providing consumers access to strong forms of encryption. During his speech, Rosenstein said that people do not have a right to warrant-proof encryption and called for restricting the public’s access to forms of encryption to only those which allow government access to the data. Last year Apple’s CEO expressed his opinion that it would be a bad idea to weaken encryption, as it wouldn’t only help the government access encrypted data, it would also help cybercriminals and others gain access to user data.
While delivering his speech, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein reminded the midshipmen who were present of the oath that they took to support, obey, and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and how federal prosecutors take the same oath. However, Rosenstein doesn’t seem to think that encryption and computer code constitutes as free speech that is protected under the 1st amendment of the Constitution, and also believes the right to privacy protected by the 4th amendment and elsewhere in the Constitution is not an unlimited right. Rosenstein lamented that, “increasingly, the tools we use to collect evidence run up against technology that is designed to defeat them.”
“Consider, for instance, how the “dark web” facilitates child exploitation and promotes trade in illicit goods. Or consider how criminals take advantage of new technology that conceals their identities to commit crimes such as trading child pornography and making bomb threats,” the Deputy Attorney General said during his speech at the Naval Academy. Rosenstein complained about how telecommunications companies often route and store data overseas, which can make it more difficult for American law enforcement agencies to obtain evidence of crimes.
Rosenstein who was confirmed by the Senate earlier this year, continued to attack tech companies, and suggest that government needed to be able to gain access to any encrypted data it wanted. He described encryption as “one of our greatest challenges.” While he claims that he himself and others in American law enforcement have no desire to undermine encryption, those who read his speech may be scratching their heads wondering how in the world forcing companies to create software that would allow government access to a user’s private encrypted data wouldn’t be undermining encryption.
The Deputy AG went on to lament “the advent of ‘warrant-proof’ encryption,” which he said was a serious problem. “Our society has never had a system where evidence of criminal wrongdoing was totally impervious to detection, especially when officers obtain a court-authorized warrant.” Rosenstein believes that tech companies like Apple are currently building such a system. Rosenstein justifies his views on weakening encryption by saying that “there has never been a right to absolute privacy…Warrant-proof encryption defeats the constitutional balance by elevating privacy above public safety. Encrypted communications that cannot be intercepted and locked devices that cannot be opened are law-free zones that permit criminals and terrorists to operate without detection by police and without accountability by judges and juries. When encryption is designed with no means of lawful access, it allows terrorists, drug dealers, child molesters, fraudsters, and other criminals to hide incriminating evidence,” Rosenstein said.
Rosenstein and others in law enforcement fear that cybercriminals are “going dark” because they have access to strong encryption. The Deputy AG said he believes that “reasonable encryption” is possible. One technological suggestion Rosenstein called for during his speech was a centralized government database of encryption keys. He feels that because some people are ok with Google scanning their emails for advertising purposes, that everyone should be ok with the government. He also seems to feel that if some people are ok with sharing their encryption keys with Apple in order to enable them to decrypt their data in case they should forget what their password is, that everyone should be ok with sharing their encryption keys with the government to enable them to decrypt your data.