?Check the status of the reintroduced EARN IT Act.
Your message is either available to anyone or it’s hidden to everyone but its recipients: that’s the point of privacy and free speech—online or otherwise.
Encryption makes it happen. But government has always been uneasy when you and I wield it. The tension goes back at least 25 years.
In the ’90s, the NSA under Clinton (D) crafted the Clipper chip. (Say that ten times fast.) The United States was intended to be subject to the MYK-78 chip because the government built in a back door. They could eavesdrop in real time to the voice transmissions the chip protected. (As it turns out, Matt Blaze discovered serious vulnerabilities allowing a technical attacker to bypass its encryption altogether.)
Uncle Sugar had the naïve hubris to conclude that once the chip was embedded in US telecommunications services, everyone could be monitored. Not just unsuspecting citizens, but the evildoers as well. Especially the evildoers. The Clintonistas argued that because “terrorists would have to use it to communicate with outsiders—banks, suppliers, and contacts—the Government could listen in on those calls.”
Um… yeah, right.
“ The government does things like insisting that all encryption programs should have a back door. But surely no one is stupid enough to think the terrorists are going to use encryption systems with a back door. The terrorists will simply hire a programmer to come up with a secure encryption scheme. ”
— Kevin Mitnick; American computer security consultant, author and hacker
Under Trump (D, R & I, etc.) and his Attorney General, William Barr (R), the friction between our privacy and government surveillance ramped up, noted the EFF, with the so-called EARN IT bill, sponsored by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) of “We will impose our will on you” fame, and Zoom-bashing Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).
Barr made it crystal clear he wanted to ban the encryption you and I may use, and guarantee law enforcement so-called “legal access” to any digital message you and I may send. Service providers that don’t play ball could be sued into compliance or bankruptcy. No less a giant than Apple caved, though they are very quiet about it.
Along with EFF, Bruce Schneier, Matthew Green and others detailed how well EARN IT would attack encryption. Notoriously, it’s been called the New FOSTA.
Riana Pfefferkorn, at Stanford University’s Center for Internet and Society, explained it’s a safe bet EARN IT would include requirements that encrypted content be made available to law enforcement in decrypted form.
“The bill as it’s drafted does a bizarre and alarming end run around normal legislative or even agency rule-making processes,” said Pfefferkorn, giving the attorney general “the keys for deciding what rules apply on the Internet.”
Pfefferkorn goes on to explain that even if you don’t give a flying gooseberry about the damage done to free speech and personal privacy, the fact that this bill will hurt child safety efforts—by making CSAM investigations harder and making it likelier that CSAM defendants would walk free—should still get your attention.
Ron Wyden (D-OR), ever the friend of privacy and the foe of anti-encryption, calls the EARN IT Act “a transparent and deeply cynical effort by a few well-connected corporations and the Trump administration to use child sexual abuse to their political advantage, the impact to free speech and the security and privacy of every single American be damned.”
If government is allowed to screen all messages en masse, they’ll be able to outlaw encryption: it will get in their way. If service providers can be compelled to screen all messages according to a government ruleset, the costs borne may easily be passed on to users in an otherwise free (or downgraded) service. If the government can legally hold a service provider responsible for the content of messages sent by others, the only service providers left will be those in lockstep with government surveillance. And you and I will pay for those services with cold dead silence—we’ll be too afraid to say what we think.
The inmates are running the asylum. The lunacy doesn’t run along party faction lines but along government fault lines. If you and I refuse to take encryption seriously by refusing to take matters into our own hands, we can expect lunatics like Barr to permanently bar our right to speak. Thugs like Clinton, Trump, Graham and Blumenthal are fine with you and I living in a world of constant government oversight, but I’m not.
I hope you’re not either.