House of Bush 3.0

Jeb Bush thinks if your data is encrypted, the ‘evildoers’ will win – Trevor Timm

Jeb “I’m my own man” Bush sounds more and more like his know-nothing ex-president brother every day. This time, in between defending the Iraq War and saying he might bring back torture if elected president, he’s demanding that tech companies stop letting billions of the world’s citizens use encryption online to protect their information because of “evildoers.”

Bush’s comments echo the dangerous sentiments of FBI director Jim Comey, who has publicly campaigned against Apple and Google for attempting to make our cell phones and communications safer by incorporating strong encryption in iPhones and Android devices.

At a campaign stop earlier this week Jeb Bush said: “If you create encryption, it makes it harder for the American government to do its job – while protecting civil liberties – to make sure that evildoers aren’t in our midst.”

There are so many things wrong with that statement it’s hard to know where to start. First of all, he seems to either be attacking, or just doesn’t understand, that the entire internet – and much of the economy really – is based around strong encryption. Every time he logs onto his email, uses online banking or wants to check his medical records online, there is some form of encryption that is protecting his data from criminals. So the fact that technology companies are “creating” encryption protects all of us.

He was likely talking about end-to-end encryption implemented by Apple and the popular messaging app WhatsApp that lock out even the companies themselves to the content of text messages, so that only the two people talking to each other can ever see them. While opponents claim this is “helping terrorists,” even the most pro-government former intelligence officials readily admit there are still plenty of ways to track criminals who use encryption, and by attempting to outlaw it we put billions of completely innocent people at a much higher risk of having their personal information stolen by foreign governments or criminals.

Unfortunately, Bush’s comments seem to be part of a pattern with the 2016 presidential candidates, none of whom seem to understand the basic precepts of technology, and the critical role encryption plays in all of our cybersecurity.

Republican candidate Carly Fiorina, who has been getting a lot of attention in recent weeks, sounded even more out of touch at the second-tier Republican debate a couple weeks ago when she lamented that companies need to “tear down cyberwalls” when asked about whether Apple and Google should be implementing end-to-end encryption.

Putting aside the fact that “cyberwalls” are not a thing, it’s quite disturbing that candidates are so willing to undermine the backbone of the internet so off-handedly. Fiorina, who by virtually all accounts, was a failure as CEO of Hewlett-Packard ten years ago, showed off her (lack of) technical knowledge. While she may have been joking, even Hillary Clinton’s comment about “wiping” her notorious email server “with a cloth” is distressing as well. Her own comments on the encryption issue, while vague, did not give the sense that she understands the issue either.

It begs the questions: how many candidates have technologists or computer scientists advising their campaigns? Given how almost every week there is yet another security breach at a major company, and that voters are concerned about their online privacy, you’d think at least some of the candidates would attempt to capitalize on it by merely having a coherent policy that does not make them sound like they’ve never touched a computer (or sent a fax) before without the assistance of their aides.

Strong end-to-end encryption is one of the best defenses against the massive cyber-attacks that have become all too frequent. If there is not a giant pile of data that is accessible by anyone, then the criminals can’t get it either.

While it’s still shameful that current White House has refused to rein in its FBI director’s dangerous plans, at least behind the scenes White House officials reportedly know it’s a dangerous idea and President Obama deserves a bit of credit for acknowledging how important encryption is in many circumstances.

In the modern world, the importance of strong encryption cannot be overstated. When will our presidential candidates understand that?

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Categories: House of Bush 3.0

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