Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Privacy Is OK

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I saw a negative comment on Mastodon about Reid Blackman’s article in the NY Times (no paywall) on Signal and why unrestrained privacy is a bad thing. I read the article and I didn’t understand what the problem was, though I was perfectly willing the accept that there may indeed be a problem. I was just unable to see it, and the 500-character format was insufficient to describe the problem to those who, like me, were ignorant of what it was.

Now, thankfully, Tim Bray has written an explainer that provides the insight I wanted. He writes:

I hate to write a piece just saying Someone Is Wrong On The Internet. But Reid Blackman’s The Signal App and the Danger of Privacy at All Costs (in the NYTimes, forsooth) is not just wrong but dangerously misleading. I haven’t seen a compact explainer on why, so here goes.

Blackman’s description of what Signal does is accurate: Provides an extremely private communication path among individuals and groups; private to the extent that (a nonprofit) doesn’t even know who’s talking to whom, let alone what they’re saying.

Blackman argues that this is dangerous because bad people could use it to plan nefarious activities and the legal authorities wouldn’t be able to eavesdrop on them and stop them. Indeed, bad people can and (I’m sure) do use cryptography to evade surveillance.

So, let’s agree that Signal offers an upside and a downside. Up: Your privacy is protected from snoopers, be they maleficent governments or ordinary criminals. Down: It’s hard to wiretap the bad guys.

So, can we remove the downside without doing damage? Blackman says little about that, except the phrase “Whether law enforcement should tap our phones on the condition that a warrant is obtained…”

I’m sorry to be the bearer of of bad news, but it’s simply not possible to address the downside without completely shattering the upside. Here are three reasons why.

  1. When you say “law enforcement”, who exactly do you mean? Employees of the United States? Of Oregon? Of Crow Wing County, MN? Of Italy? Of China? How are you going to sort out the jurisdictional disputes, and how are you going to ensure that only “good” law-enforcement organizations get to snoop?
  2. A Signal eavesdropping capability would become the Holy Grail for every global organized-crime organization, national-security agency, and teenage hacker from Belarus. They’re pretty smart people at Signal, but there aren’t that many of them, and in a fight between them and a world-wide army of attackers, I know who I’m betting on.
  3. Obviously, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2022 at 4:35 pm

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