Hillary Clinton Wants A 'Manhattan Project' For Encryption… But Not A Back Door. That Makes No Sense
from the politics is dumb dept
In the Democratic Presidential debate on Saturday night, Hillary Clinton followed up on her recent nonsensical arguments about why Silicon Valley has to “solve” the problem of encryption. As we’ve noted, it was pretty clear that she didn’t fully understand the issue, and that was even more evident with her comments on Saturday night.
Here’s what’s clear: she’s trying to do the old politician’s trick of attempting to appease everyone with vague ideas that allow her to tap dance around the facts.
First, she proposed a “Manhattan-like project” to create more cooperation between tech companies and the government in fighting terrorism. The Manhattan Project was the project during World War II where a bunch of scientists were sent out to the desert to build an atomic bomb. But they had a specific goal of “build this.” Here, the goal is much more vague and totally meaningless: have tech and government work together to stop bad people. How do you even do that? The only suggestion that has been made so far — and the language around which Clinton has been echoing — has been to undermine encryption with backdoors.
However, since that resulted in a (quite reasonable) backlash from basically anyone who knows anything about computer security, we get the second statement from Clinton that she doesn’t want backdoors.
“Maybe the back door isn’t the right door, and I understand what Apple and others are saying about that. I just think there’s got to be a way, and I would hope that our tech companies would work with government to figure that out.”
No, she clearly does not understand what Apple and others are saying about that. Just a week or so ago, she insisted that Apple’s complaint about it was that it might lead to the government invading users’ privacy, but that’s only a part of the concern. The real concern is that backdooring encryption means that everyone is more exposed to everyone, including malicious hackers. You create a backdoor and you open up the ability for malicious hackers from everywhere else to get in.
So, she’s trying to walk this ridiculously stupid line in trying to appease everyone. She wants the security/intelligence officials to hear “Oh, I’ll get Silicon Valley to deal with the ‘going dark’ thing you’re so scared of,” and she wants the tech world to hear “Backdoors aren’t the answer.” But, that leaves a giant “HUH?!?” in the middle.
It seems to come down to this: None of the candidates for president appear to have the slightest clue how encryption or computer security work and that allows them to make statements like this that are totally nonsensical, while believing that they make sense.
The issue, again, is that what they’re really asking for is “Can you make a technology where only ‘good’ people can use it safely, and everyone else cannot?” And the answer to that question is to point out how absolutely astoundingly stupid the question is. Because there’s no way to objectively determine who is “good” and who is “bad,” and thus the only possible response is to create code that really thinks everyone is “bad.” And to do that, you have to completely undermine basic security practices..
So this whole idea of “if we just throw smart people in a room, they’ll figure it out” is wrong. It’s starting from the wrong premise that there’s some sort of magic formula for “good people” and “bad people.” And without understanding that basic fact, the policy proposals being tossed out are nothing short of ridiculous.