Attorney General William Barr has taken up ex-FBI Director James Comey’s battle for government backdoors into private citizens’ encrypted private messages. Apple MFWIC Tim Cook won a similar fight regarding iPhone passwords and a demand that government should be allowed backdoors into those, and Comey’s FBI was shown to have been dissembling about that difficulty by the speed with which a contractor the FBI hired successfully broke into an iPhone the FBI had confiscated.
Now Barr has broadened the fight, demanding Facebook give Government backdoors into Facebook’s planned rollout of encryption for its messaging services. He wants Facebook, too, to hold off on its rollout until Government is satisfied it has such backdoors. Barr’s cynically misleading plaint includes this tearjerker:
Companies cannot operate with impunity where lives and the safety of our children is at stake, and if Mr Zuckerberg really has a credible plan to protect Facebook’s more than two billion users it’s time he let us know what it is[.]
Zuckerberg has been quite clear on what it is. It’s facilitating private citizens’ ability to encrypt their private messages on Facebook’s platform. Many of whom live in outright tryannies, others of whom live in so-far free nations, but whose government officials want to be able to pierce the protections of enforceable privacy at will.
The concern that bad guys, terrorists as well as common criminals, will take advantage of such encryption to evade government law enforcement facilities is entirely valid. Two things about that, though. First is Ben Franklin’s remark about the relationship between safety and security.
The other is for law enforcement to do better with their own IT skills and with their own human policing skills. Just as the FBI did in cracking that iPhone after Apple refused to give break-in assistance to Government.