And you’d never quite know who was spying on you, because the backdoor that the legislation effectively mandates could be exploited by any hacker savvy enough to open it.
The legislation is so poorly written that it would render many common products used without any ill-effect illegal, Isaac Potoczny-Jones explains. “It’s likely that these Senate members simply don’t realize that the technologies to make data unintelligible to anyone, including the government, are 1) The cornerstone of cybersecurity as we know it, and 2) already widely available, and have been for many years,” he writes.
A technology expert at The New America Foundation, the centrist Washington, D.C., policy think-tank, told Wired, “In my nearly 20 years of work in tech policy, this is easily the most ludicrous, dangerous, technically illiterate proposal I’ve ever seen.”
Senator Ron Wyden, another member of the Senate intelligence committee, promised that if the legislation reaches the Senate floor he will filibuster it. “This would effectively outlaw Americans from protecting themselves,” he said in a statement. “It would ban the strongest types of encryption and undermine the foundation of cybersecurity for millions of Americans. This flawed bill would leave Americans more vulnerable to stalkers, identity thieves, foreign hackers, and criminals.” Meanwhile, he added, “it will not make us safer from terrorists or other threats.”
That’s because a terrorist intent on using, say, a messaging app with end-to-end encryption need not rely on what’s built in the United States by above-board tech-firms. If end-to-end encryption is outlawed, the law-abiding will lose access. Outlaws won’t.
Sometimes, I give thanks for the limits on how longstanding technology can be limited. Consider the humble piece of paper. Terrorists can map out an entire operation on the stuff, then burn up all the evidence, leaving no more than a smoldering ash heap for the FBI, even if they have a warrant! Imagine if it was technologically viable to produce paper than could neither be burned nor shredded, and the federal government imposed that mandate on the nation’s paper-makers. Suddenly, it would be marginally harder for terrorists to plan operations and harder for various other criminals to destroy evidence of their misdeeds, too.
The literal paper-trail would be preserved!
Meanwhile, every American with a diary or a stack of old bills they’d once have taken to the shredder to thwart identity thieves would be unable to protect themselves. And determined terrorists could still get burnable paper made abroad.
The analogy is imperfect in part because it radically understates the privacy threat posed by the Burr-Feinstein bill. In this hyper-connected era, your unencrypted data can be sucked up in mass quantities and stored permanently by any criminal syndicate or foreign government with a sufficiently sophisticated spy arm.