A New Congress and Crypto War II

Dear Friends,

As the 114th Congress convenes, a new crypto war will require steadfast political leadership to ensure our digital rights and our online security are protected. The Internet of Things has opened the floodgates to corporate and government snooping into our most intimate data and activities. Last year, my colleague, Sean Vitka, and I anticipated the scary prospect of a second battle over public cryptography and our fundamental right to control the smart devices that have become an indispensable part of our everyday lives.


Crypto War II is the logical next step following the rush by Internet service providers to hang dollars on data traversing their networks -- creating service tiers, interconnection arbitrage, and discriminating amongst services and applications. As distributed infrastructure and end-to-end encryption make it more increasingly difficult for ISPs to know the exact content, pathing, and application being used, there's a move afoot to shift surveillance from the networks themselves into the devices we use to get online. As this process continues, I worry that ISPs may even try to dissuade users from encryption by relegating encrypted traffic to Internet slow lanes -- in essence, forcing users to trade our privacy for speed.



More recently, FBI Director, James Comey, asked Congress to update the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) to force tech companies to build vulnerable backdoors into their devices and services. This government privacy intrusion is couched in the narrative of protecting us from "criminals, terrorists, and child predators," but CALEA II, as currently conceptualized will actually make us less secure in the long run.



The online world as we know it would not exist without privacy, anonymity, and strong encryption. Sean Vitka and I explore these ideas in our paper -- analyzing how the fight over cryptography and privacy may play out and what we can do to prevent us from heading down a dystopian trajectory. You can read the full article here.



Providing critical, honest assessments of tech policy ideas is what X-Lab was designed to do. We help key policy makers, talented technologists, and the general public understand the implications of coming disruptive technologies prior to problems becoming entrenched.



I hope you will not only read and share our analysis but join us in making sure no one ever has to choose between their fundamental human rights and the technologies they want to use.


We look forward to partnering with both new and returning members of Congress to protect our rights to an open internet and a free society.



Sascha Meinrath
Founder and Director, X-Lab

Founder, Open Technology Institute




Government shouldnt dictate good security practice. "I can't think of a better caution than all of the focus on the recent Edward Snowden data. There are conflicting priorities. [The National Security Agency] was staffed to do just this--secure American communications and protect them and it is arguably one of the worst violators of that. So why do we think that having DHS in charge of the data will improve the outcome over time?" [Decode DC, White House organizing cybersecurity task force, 10/15/14]


A new Crypto War on the steps of Capitol Hill. "FBI Director James Comey has launched a new "crypto war" by asking Congress to update a two-decade-old law to make sure officials can access information from people's cellphones and other communication devices [...] The call is expected to trigger a major Capitol Hill fight about whether or not tech companies need to give the government access to their users' data [...] The notion that it's not a backdoor; it's a front door - that's just wordplay," said Bruce Schneier, a computer security expert and fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. "It just makes no sense." [The Hill, Crypto Wars Return to Congress, 10/20/14]


Fast Internet lanes for the rich; slow ones for the rest of us. “AT&T has already announced plans for such a service, called Sponsored Data, on its cellular data network. Among other things, this could allow content providers to cover the cost of delivering their data to consumers, making their content more attractive. That concept may get more complicated if encryption comes into play. For example, in some developing countries, Facebook and mobile operators together are offering cheap mobile data deals that only cover Facebook. There are encrypted services that can tunnel through Facebook to give users access to other service, but carriers will want to know if anyone is circumventing the exclusive Facebook deal. "The problem is that providers are going to say, 'We need to be able to know that you're not doing that, therefore we need to be able to ensure that you are not encrypting,'" Meinrath said." [PC World, Net neutrality a key battleground in growing fight over encryption, 07/19/14]


President sends strong signal to FCC's Tom Wheeler to protect net neutrality. "President Obama said late Thursday that he was "unequivocally committed" to net neutrality and firmly opposed to any proposal that would let companies buy an Internet fast lane to deliver their content more quickly to consumers. The statements [...] gave a strong signal to Mr. Obama's Democratic appointees on the Federal Communications Commission that he wants them to heed the overwhelming public sentiment expressed in 3.7 million comments sent to the commission in recent months concerning a set of rules proposed by the commission meant to protect net neutrality. A large majority of those comments, solicited by the commission, came out against Internet fast lanes - a practice known as paid prioritization." [New York Times, Obama Reiterates His Opposition to Internet 'Fast Lanes', 10/10/14]



You can't build a backdoor that only the good guys can walk through. "Encryption protects against cybercriminals, industrial competitors, the Chinese secret police and the FBI. You're either vulnerable to eavesdropping by any of them, or you're secure from eavesdropping from all of them[...] FBI Director James Comey claimed that Apple's move allows people to "place themselves beyond the law" and also invoked that now overworked "child kidnapper." John J. Escalante, chief of detectives for the Chicago police department now holds the title of most hysterical: "Apple will become the phone of choice for the pedophile. It's all bluster. Of the 3,576 major offenses for which warrants were granted for communications interception in 2013, exactly one involved kidnapping. And, more importantly, there's no evidence that encryption hampers criminal investigations in any serious way. In 2013, encryption foiled the police nine times, up from four in 2012­ -- and the investigations proceeded in some other way. This is why the FBI's scare stories tend to wither after public scrutiny." [Schneier on Security, iPhone Encryption and the Return of the Crypto Wars, 10/06/14]


FCC's Hybrid Approach to Net Neutrality Makes No-one Happy. Days after Verizon launches a tech news site that bans reporting on network neutrality, the FCC is hinting at a "hybrid" approach to governing network neutrality. “Broadband connections to consumers would be regulated lightly as a "retail" service. Lines between websites and services (or "edge providers," in FCC-speak) and broadband providers would be regulated under old rules written for old phone networks. [...] Net neutrality advocates argue that the third option, the hybrid approach, isn't the best way to move forward since the plan is so convoluted it probably won't hold up under the inevitable legal challenge." [Re/code, FCC Eying Net Neutrality Plan That Will Make No One Happy, 10/31/14] [TechDirt, Verizon Launches Tech News Blog... That Bans Any Articles About Net Neutrality Or Government Surveillance, 10/29/14]




Welcome Megan Smith, the White House's new chief technology officer. We look forward to collaborating to preserve an open Internet that encourages innovation, protects consumers and engages more women in tech. [NPR, From Silicon Valley To White House, New U.S. Tech Chief Makes Change, 11/4/14]


Recommendations for improving transparency and accountability for the 114th Congress: Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the Sunlight Foundation, and the OpenGov Foundation issued recommendations for improving transparency and accountability in the House of Representatives. [CREW, CREW Recommends updating the Rules of the House of Representatives for the 114th Congress, 10/08/14]







X-Lab Fellows Updates

Pia Mancini recently gave a widely viewed talk at TED Global (500,000 views and counting!) on rewiring democratic representation in Argentina and beyond through her open-source platform, Democracy OS. We are very excited to be working with Pia on closely integrating their participatory democracy platform, Democracy OS, with Commotion Wireless.


James Losey blogs about institutional advocacy and internet policy. "Understanding the role of institutional advocacy is important not only for understanding how a combination of tactics influences changes to internet policy, but also for recognizing how a variety of actors engage in a debate."


Ben Knight, co-founder of Loomio, an online tool for collaborative decision-making, will be coming to the U.S. to present at the Fusion RiseUp Conference in DC on November 19th.


Announcements & Events:

The Berkman Center for Internet and Society welcomes Sascha as a member of their Advisory Committee.


Sascha speaks at the INCmty Conference in Monterrey, Mexico on November 7th at 12pm.




Sascha will be speaking at ABC Continuity Forum on November 13-14 in Miami, Florida.


Sascha will be speaking at the Fusion RiseUp Conference in DC on November 19th.