In early 1775, Benjamin Franklin and his European colleague, Charles Dumas, developed a secret method of communicating with each other.
Dumas had spent years gathering intelligence in Europe to assist the Americans in their revolt against Britain. But the two needed a secure way to pass information across the Atlantic.
So they developed a special cipher– a crude form of encryption where letters and words were substituted for numerals.
The decryption key changed with every letter; so, for example, in a letter from Franklin dated March 2, 1781, the word “MERCHANT” was written as “23. 3. 4. 13. 6. 14. 24. 18.”
At the same time, the physician James Jay (brother to the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Jay) developed an invisible ink so that revolutionary leaders could communicate in secret.
These encrypted communications became critical to the Revolution. And it’s safe to say there would probably not be a United States if they hadn’t developed a secure way to send information.
Ironically, politicians are trying to destroy modern methods of encryption.
Over the past few months while everyone has been in mandatory isolation, cowering in fear in their homes… and over the past few weeks while the Land of the Free has been consumed with rage. . .
. . . a few US Senators have once again proven that chilling political adage– ‘never let a good crisis go to waste.’
Exhibit A: Senate Bill 4051, the “Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act”, which was quietly introduced last week when everyone’s attention was consumed elsewhere.
First thing’s first, like all freedom-killing bills, this one has a catchy name.
The Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act is LEAD for short, as in “Move over China! The Land of the Free will LEAD the way in destroying the last remaining freedoms of its citizens.”
(In that way it seems more like ‘lead’, the highly toxic metal that poisons the brain and creates severe intellectual disability.)
At its core, the LEAD Act is an encryption killer. It aims to require technology companies to build ‘back doors’ into their products to ensure that the government can remotely access your data, your device, and your life.
This is nothing short of earth shattering.
Apple, for example, currently provides device encryption on its iPhones and iPads. And once you encrypt your device, only YOU can decrypt it. Apple can’t. Hackers can’t. And the government can’t.
So if your device is ever stolen (or confiscated), your data cannot be compromised.
Under the LEAD Act, this practice would become illegal. Apple would no longer be able to offer device encryption, and they’d have to provide a way for the federal government to remotely access your device, and all of its contents.
The same goes for your favorite chat applications.
WhatsApp, for example, is one of the most popular texting apps in the world. A few years ago, Facebook (which owns WhatsApp) began implementing end-to-end encryption for all WhatsApp data.
This means that any message you send someone via WhatsApp is immediately encrypted the moment it leaves your phone.
That messages arrives to the WhatsApp servers fully encrypted. So any hacker (or Facebook engineer) who intercepts the data will see nothing but a garbled mess.
And the message isn’t decrypted until it arrives to the intended recipient’s device. So the only people who can see the message in “clear text” are the two people participating in the conversation.
No one else can eavesdrop, or download the data.
But again, under the LEAD Act, this too would become illegal… and Facebook will be obligated to build in a ‘back door’ for the government to remotely access your conversations.
LEAD also requires developers of operating systems, like Microsoft Windows and Apple’s MacOS, to provide backdoor access to your computer.
It’s extraordinary to think of how far-reaching the effects of this legislation will go.
For example, do you use an online password manager like OnePassword?
They will also be required to give the government access to your data… which essentially would give the government access to EVERYTHING you do online.
Do you upload files and photos to iCloud? Yup. That too. Apple will be required to build a back door and give the government access to your data.
Any ‘zero knowledge’ encryption, whether it’s for storing files, sharing photos, texting friends, making video calls, sending encrypted emails, etc., will become illegal under this legislation.
And to be crystal clear about what that means, CRYPTOCURRENCY will effectively become illegal under the LEAD Act as well.
That’s right. Cryptocurrency relies on data encryption too.
Your ‘wallet’ is essentially a public key / private key combination. And in theory, only you are supposed to have access.
But that’s exactly what this legislation aims to prevent. The government wants backdoor access to everything.
Honestly this legislation would be hilarious if it weren’t actually true… because it shows how totally clueless these people really are.
The politicians are calling it as ‘lawful access’, as if only the government would be able to use these back doors. Clearly these people understand nothing about cybersecurity.
There is no such thing as a ‘back door’ that only the government can access.
Once a technology company creates a way to remotely access a device, then that back door is available to ANYONE who can crack it.
It’s not like some hacker, or foreign intelligence agency, is going to probe the back door on your iPhone and say, “Oh, nevermind, this is only for the US government. I guess I’ll try to find another way in.”
If this law passes, not only will the government be able to access your devices, but hackers will have endless new treasures of data to steal… courtesy of the United States Senate.