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Is Barr’s Latest Swing at Encryption a Sign of Things to Come?

by Matthew Harris

Tuesday saw a double-whammy for big tech companies that could be setting up some super-sized nastiness in Washington soon. Barr sounded off about encryption and the DOJ announced they are launching a formal antitrust review against the nation’s biggest tech companies.

While the antitrust investigation may spell bad news for a few industry leaders, it’s Barr’s comments about encryption that caught my attention the most. 

Barr was at the International Conference on Cyber Security at Fordham University on Tuesday and almost seeming to be timed with the announced antitrust review, the Attorney General once again took aim at some his favorite targets. While he’s speaking about Apple, Google, and Amazon and their encryption to prevent hackers and foreign entities from accessing our phones, I want you to really digest what is saying.

With what Trump recently said about cryptocurrency and Barr’s seeming obedience to do The Donald’s bidding, this could mean some thick B.S. in the coming days.

The Pre-Crime Unit?

While I’ll get to some of the comments regarding why AG Barr is taking this position, I want to start this off with the one that… well, scares me.

"seriously degrades the ability of law enforcement to detect and prevent crime before it occurs.”

At the Cyber Security Conference.. Barr was quoted as saying that encryption “seriously degrades the ability of law enforcement to detect and prevent crime before it occurs.”

I do understand the need for LE to prevent crime, but at what cost?

They want to be able to get into today’s phones, saying it is "dangerous" and "unacceptable" that the encryption used in order to keep our data secure is hindering LE’s ability to access communications. While this encryption is exactly what keeps us protected from the aforementioned hackers and foreign governments, Barr is upset that LE cannot get into those devices even after a Judge signs off on a warrant.

Encryption Conniption  

Barr also said, “By enabling dangerous criminals to cloak their communications and activities behind an essentially impenetrable digital shield, the deployment of warrant-proof encryption is already imposing huge costs on society.”

And then… he said this beauty — "We think our tech sector has the ingenuity to develop effective ways to provide secure encryption while also providing secure legal access.”

What Barr and so many others in Washington can’t seem to understand is that putting in any sort of “backdoor” or LE access would leave a hole for criminals to use as well.

Soooooo, basically the AG is demanding that these companies spend millions upon millions of dollars in order to develop this feature.

Is Barr going to offer to fund these projects?

Yes, our “men in blue” should be doing everything they can to track criminals and prevent crime. But where is the line drawn?

Should there be “backdoors” in our Smart TVs and other home appliances so that LE can easily access audio in the criminal’s homes?

Should Alexa, Siri, and other home-assistants listen at all times and automatically report certain keywords to LE?

Our phones, tablets and other devices are direct conduits not only into our homes, but our lives. Providing coding that inherently allows outside access is inviting exploitation… plain and simple.

What Does This Mean for Crypto?

That’s the big question. With so many in Washington showing last week that they have absolutely NO idea what blockchain and cryptocurrency are or what they can do, yet taking apparent definitive anti-stances, it could get ugly real fast.

Apparently the only time many of those folks have heard about Bitcoin was in regards to Silk Road or when the price jumps and makes the news. Some of them appear to think that anything to do with cryptocurrency is illegal or inherently bad and there have already been calls for an outright ban against Libra and even Bitcoin.

With their low education on the subject and almost shaking-in-their-boots fright about criminals having routes around LE, will it be long before there is a Justice Department inquiry into all cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology?

My money is on no, not long at all.

At the very least, we’ll see some sort of “Committee” come out of Washington and unless they get some more folks up there actually educated, it could be all for show.

I don’t truly think they will set out to ban crypto, but I do think they are going to quickly look at regulations regarding exchanges reporting large transfers or suspicious transactions and ensuring that LE can always access any and all transactions.

Where this can really get scary is when you consider communications encrypted by blockchain and only accessible by the right key. You can bet your bottom dollar that they’re going to want access to anything like that.

Especially if they are successful in forcing big tech to add a backdoor as it would likely force the criminal element to alternative communications. Which of course, would mean more attention to any blockchain based communication operation and likely the industry as a whole.

As the 2020 election looms ever nearer, we’re likely to see a lot more attention on Libra and altcoins. Unfortunately, the majority of their concerns over non-fiat currencies are based on a lack of knowledge that few of them will attempt to improve.

We need a group of top engineers from Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, XRP, etc to hold a conference in Washington for at least a week and educate these lawmakers once and for all.

Barr doesn’t appear to have learned anything from Comey’s failed strong-handed approach to the tech community. Resorting to hyperbole and threats is not likely to get him very far and of course since he likes being told “no” as much as the President, it could get quite ugly.

Which is what I’m afraid of if/when he sets his sights on us.

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