01 October 2010

blackberry war

I'm pretty sure the recent proposal to mandate a backdoor for government access into various types of internet based communications will end up going nowhere. It's impractical (how would open source software be penalized if it did not set up such access), it would create extra security loopholes for businesses, it's expensive to implement for them, and many such telecommunication businesses are based around the privacy and security angles for their consumers (such as Blackberry/Research in Motion). So I expect they'll make a fuss and it will die.

But consider. What was the supposed reason to need such things in the first place? Apparently these are encrypted communications. But if police or intelligence services are already monitoring someone's communications (legally) and specifically, they've never had a problem breaking these encryption systems or receiving assistance/information from manufacturers/companies on how to do so (nor should they if it is in the process of a legitimate investigation served by a warrant). The reason they want such access is not the matter of encrypted files on a suspected criminal or terrorist actor, because once there's a suspicion we can already handle that as a problem and get a FISA warrant or get the FBI or DEA on the case and go to town.

No, they want the access to do data mining. Which is completely different. There are publicly available logs of activity being collected by private companies, and governments, which while I'm sure many privacy advocates can go nuts over and we should all be a little leery over, it's not that difficult to state that some of it is in fact public information that we are "broadcasting" through selected actions. But these account largely for trivial behaviors like consumer spending patterns. What the government apparently wants is people making phone calls on skype or blackberry text messages to each other. I say they can have them.. if they go get a warrant.

You don't need to coerce the companies to build in a backdoor because there's already a legal access for when there's probable cause involved. If we don't have probable cause, we're not going to be able to prevent anything anyway (not without extremely intrusive state actions, something like this). This action comes with costs, to the economy and to private liberties, and the perceived benefit to security is largely one that is already available to us. So I'm not sure why its such a big deal to our national-security apparatus that they have this power that more intrusive states like the UAE have demanded (and were rebuffed by Blackberry).
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