The Stupid Debate Over Encryption

by Colin Berkshire

There is a lot of unnecessary debate about encryption and national security. This is a silly, useless debate.

I think we have seen in the Paris bombings and in many other attacks that messages were exchanged in clear text via SMS. Basically, these messages have been sent in plain text via the only medium which absolutely ensures that they will be intercepted 100% of the time.

The lack of encryption doesn’t seem to have helped us prevent terrorist attacks. Attackers seem to be either very unsophisticated to the point they don’t use encryption or they know they can hide right in plain sight.

First, let’s dispel the false thinking that encryption back doors help security. We’ve seen that having all terrorist communications be in plain text via a heavily monitored channel doesn’t help stop terrorism. We’ve seen little effort by terrorists to encrypt communications. So why does having a back door help national security? The answer is that it can never help.

Even if all computers and communications with encryption had government back doors, then all a terrorist would need to do is write their messages on an index card, take a picture, and send the picture. I’m pretty sure we aren’t OCRing every picture, hand-written note and hieroglyphic. Encryption is so easy to create that the bad people would just make their own. It could be as simple as spelling every word backwards and even that would likely foil the security people. There are thousands of variations that are trivial and effective.

Now, many of the security people aren’t stupid. They fully know that they cannot have a back door to every terrorist and they can’t unlock every encryption. They absolutely, certainly, positively know this. (As certainly as every TSA agent knows that they cannot ever be 90% effective at finding weapons going onto airplanes.)

So why then does the government press for back doors when they know these will be minimally effective at enhancing security?

I believe that organizations are not inept. I also believe in history repeating itself and in showing us how things really work.

In the case of security and the need for back doors and encryption hacking I think the motivation isn’t your ordinary terrorist. (They will always manage to get lost in the system.)

So what is it?

My simple answer is J. Edgar Hoover. It is very powerful to know people’s secrets. It gives you power and gives you control. We all have our secrets, and if our secrets are known to people in the government we can be manipulated individually. J. Edgar Hoover did this to presidents and congressmen for a very long time.

When you think–just stand back and think–this is the only explanation that makes any sense. Ockham’s razor applies.