Here We Go Again, Again

More proof that magical thinking knows no political boundaries.

The latest attempt to deny reality comes from Senators Dianne Feinstein and Richard Burr, a Democrat from California and a Republican from North Carolina*, respectively.

* What’s up with lawmakers from North Carolina these days? Are they totally devoid of common sense?

Their joint venture, the delightfully named “Compliance with Court Orders Act of 2016” bill is intended to force anyone–make that ANYONE–who makes hardware or software that allows communication or data storage to ensure that law enforcement officials have access.

If the bill becomes law and you offer communication, be it of voice or data, you must provide a way for the police, FBI, NSA, and any other federal, state, or local agency to listen in.

Similarly, if you store data or provide equipment for storing data, you’ll have to include a method for all those groups to bypass whatever encryption you offer.

Obligatory disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer.

That said, the bill is written so broadly that I can see it being applied to pencil and paper. Make up your own code to protect the notes you’re taking for blog post on corruption in your city government? If the local police department gets a local judge to agree, you’ll be forced to decode your notes.

Maybe I’m wrong about that. Another interpretation would be that the companies that made your pencil and paper might be required to break your code. I really doubt that’s a valid interpretation, but I also really doubt that someone wouldn’t try it.

Hopefully I’m wrong about both of those interpretations, but it’s pretty clear that if you store your notes on a computer, the hardware manufacturer, the OS maker, and the company that wrote the software you used would all be required to make your notes available to the cops when they come knocking. For that matter, if you upload the software from your notebook to a server somewhere, the server owner and the company that made your network software (i.e. your web browser) are also on the hook.

Bad enough, but all of those manufacturers are also required to obey all laws about protection of your privacy and security. In other words, that access can only be available to law enforcement and only when they have a court order in hand.

We’ve talked about this before. As I said then, “…there’s no such thing as a backdoor that can only be used by authorized people. If there’s a way to bypass or remove encryption, crackers–independent, criminal-sponsored, and government-sponsored will find a way to use it.” That’s still true. That will always be true.

Fortunately, President Obama has already said he won’t support the bill, and Senator Ron Wyden–probably the strongest proponent of privacy in the Senate today–has promised to filibuster any attempt to enact it.

But as the Republican leadership keeps reminding us, there’s an election coming up. We can’t count on Senator Wyden remaining on the job forever, nor can we trust that the next president–whichever party he or she belongs to–will be as sensible as President Obama.

I’m not suggesting that anyone should make this fall’s elections a single-issue matter. But if you don’t at least consider your candidates’ positions–all of your candidates at all levels–on privacy in general and encryption in particular, you’re doing yourself a grave injustice.

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