Barr Receives Pushback for His Anti-Encryption Stance

William Barr is receiving a large amount of pushback after he pushed for the war on encryption to be fought on American soil once again.

Earlier this month, spy agencies from the Five Eyes nations continued to push for a war on encryption. The effort to make the Internet less secure is motivating more nations to consider a push to make less secure. Canada openly contemplated joining the war on encryption.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration in the US discussed the idea of initiating their version on the war on encryption. William Barr later on that month added pressure to initiate that war on encryption. The idea in the US is to ban all encryption law enforcement cannot crack or have backdoor access.

Now, critics are pushing back against Barr. Broadcasting Cable is pointing to an open letter signed by multiple organizations. From the report:

In a July 23 speech at an international cybersecurity conference, Barr said that time was running out on warrant-proof encryption and that the alternative was a crime-filled, “law-fee” internet.

As to providing government access to communications information, Barr said that as a former telecom exec (Verizon), he has been there and it can be done.

In a piece posted on New America’s Web site and supported by its Open Technology Institute, as well as Access Now, Center for Democracy & Technology, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Engine, Internet Society, and TechFreedom.

“Strong digital encryption is the bedrock infrastructure that allows everyday people, businesses, and our government to trust technology for critical needs,” the piece asserted. “Barr’s demand that tech companies give law enforcement special access to encrypted devices would seriously violate that trust, compromising the security of potentially billions of people by creating a vulnerability that criminals and terrorists could easily exploit.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), for it’s part, posted their own response on their site. From the EFF:

Last week, Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray chose to spend some of their time giving speeches demonizing encryption and calling for the creation of backdoors to allow the government access to encrypted data. You should not spend any of your time listening to them.

Don’t be mistaken; the threat to encryption remains high. Australia and the United Kingdom already have laws in place that can enable those governments to undermine encryption, while other countries may follow. And it’s definitely dangerous when senior U.S. law enforcement officials talk about encryption the way Barr and Wray did.

The reason to ignore these speeches is that DOJ and FBI have not proven themselves credible on this issue. Instead, they have a long track record of exaggeration and even false statements in support of their position. That should be a bar to convincing anyone—especially Congress—that government backdoors are a good idea.

Barr expressed confidence in the tech sector’s “ingenuity” to design a backdoor for law enforcement that will stand up to any unauthorized access, paying no mind to the broad technical and academic consensus in the field that this risk is unavoidable. As the prominent cryptographer and Johns Hopkins University computer science professor Matt Green pointed out on Twitter, the Attorney General made sweeping, impossible-to-support claims that digital security would be largely unaffected by introducing new backdoors. Although Barr paid the barest lip service to the benefits of encryption—two sentences in a 4,000 word speech—he ignored numerous ways encryption protects us all, including preserving not just digital but physical security for the most vulnerable users.

For all of Barr and Wray’s insistence that encryption poses a challenge to law enforcement, you might expect that that would be the one area where they’d have hard facts and statistics to back up their claims, but you’d be wrong. Both officials asserted it’s a massive problem, but they largely relied on impossible-to-fact-check stories and counterfactuals. If the problem is truly as big as they say, why can’t they provide more evidence? One answer is that prior attempts at proof just haven’t held up.

The organization went on to offer examples of what they say are falsehoods and exaggerated statistics pushed by organizations hoping to weaken encryption.

One aspect that is curious is that the EFF is encouraging people to ignore the statements made by these officials. Given that they hold positions that can influence lawmaking, one would think it would make more sense to simply debunk their conspiracy theories rather than ignore them. It’s possible that there is a much broader strategy at play here.

Either way, this is showing that the war on encryption is certainly alive and well in the US. One hopes that it doesn’t extend beyond high ranking officials saying that weakening encryption is a good idea.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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