Certain senators have repeatedly pushed for encryption bans or encryption backdoors, sacrificing personal security for national security in a move that will definitively result in less of both. Former FBI Director James Comey’s incessant beating of his “Going Dark” drum didn’t help. Several legislators always managed to get sucked in by his narrative of thousands of unsearched phones presumably being tied to thousands of unsolved crimes and free-roaming criminals.
It will be interesting if the anti-encryption narratives advanced by Sens. Feinstein and Burr (in particular — although others equally sympathetic) continue now that senators can officially begin using an encrypted messaging system for their own communications.
Without any fanfare, the Senate Sergeant at Arms recently told Senate staffers that Signal, widely considered by security researchers and experts to be the most secure encrypted messaging app, has been approved for use.
The news was revealed in a letter Tuesday by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), a staunch privacy and encryption advocate, who recognized the effort to allow the encrypted messaging app as one of many “important defensive cybersecurity” measures introduced in the chamber.
ZDNet has learned the policy change went into effect in March.
If this isn’t the end of CryptoWar 2.0, then it’s at least a significant ceasefire. Senators are going to find it very hard to argue against encrypted communications when they’re allowed to use encrypted messaging apps. It’s not that legislators are above hypocrisy. It’s just that they usually allow a certain amount of time to pass before they commence openly-hypocritical activity.
This doesn’t mean the rest of the government is allowed to use encrypted chat apps for official communications. Federal agencies fall under a different set of rules — ones that provide for more comprehensive retention of communications under FOIA law. Congressional communications, however, generally can’t be FOIA’ed. It usually takes a backdoor search at federal agencies to cut these loose. So, members of Congress using an encrypted chat app with self-destructing messages may seem like the perfect way to avoid transparency, but it’s the law itself that provides most of the opacity.
If encryption’s good for the Senate, it’s good for the public. There’s no other way to spin this. Even Trump’s pro-law enforcement enthusiasm is unlikely to be enough to sell Congress on encryption backdoors. With this power in the palm of their hands, they’re more apt to see the benefits of leaving encryption un-fucked with.