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47 Silicon Valley Signatories urge the UK's GCHQ to Abandon its Plans of adopting the so-called 'Ghost Protocol'

1 cover Whatsup


Last Thursday CNBC reported that "Tech giants, civil society groups and Ivy League security experts have condemned a proposal from Britain’s eavesdropping agency as a “serious threat” to digital security and fundamental human rights.


In an open letter to GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters), 47 signatories including Apple, Google and WhatsApp have jointly urged the U.K. cybersecurity agency to abandon its plans for a so-called “ghost protocol.”


It comes after intelligence officials at GCHQ proposed a way in which they believed law enforcement could access end-to-end encrypted communications without undermining the privacy, security or confidence of other users.


Details of the initiative were first published in an essay by two of the U.K.’s highest cybersecurity officials in November 2018. Ian Levy, the technical director of Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre, and Crispin Robinson, GCHQ’s head of cryptanalysis (the technical term for codebreaking), put forward a process that would attempt to avoid breaking encryption."


If you're open minded, you could read two reports published by the Lawfare Institute. Lawfare has a blog dedicated to national security issues in cooperation with the Brookings Institution, an American think tank in Washington, D.C. Its stated mission is to provide innovative and practical recommendations that advance three broad goals: strengthen American democracy; foster the economic and social welfare, security and opportunity of all Americans."


You could read that essay by Ian Levy and Crispin Robinson titled "Principles for a More Informed Exceptional Access Debate," here. Another essay published on the same day is titled "Perspectives on Encription and Surveillance" by Daniel J. Weitner that you could read here.


At one point in Levy and Robinson essay they write: "We’re not talking about weakening encryption or defeating the end-to-end nature of the service. In a solution like this, we’re normally talking about suppressing a notification on a target’s device, and only on the device of the target and possibly those they communicate with. That’s a very different proposition to discuss and you don’t even have to touch the encryption."


It's a reasonable argument and yet if privacy has become a selling point of a company, there can be no debate. And that's where we are today.   


Below is the full open letter to GCHQ to which Apple is party to.


   Coalition Letter to GCHQ_on Ghost Proposal May, 22, 2019 by Jack Purcher on Scribd


On May 9th Patently Apple posted a report titled "With Apple leading the way, Google & Microsoft attempt to Redefine their Companies as True Advocates of Privacy." Some of the work that Apple is doing is admirable and appreciated by all. Where some disagree is in Apple and other tech companies not willing to work with law enforcement on a number of fronts in order to stop criminals, terrorists, human traffickers, pedophiles, drug dealers, MS 13 gang members and the like.


Some say that privacy is a human right. Perhaps, if you believe that those who kidnap children and then sell them into slavery are human. If you had a child abducted and learned that they're now in Asia somewhere working in prostitution, would you still want these animals to be protected by Apple and Facebook's WhatsApp? I highly doubt it.


And yet one report claims that 3,287 people are sold or kidnapped into slavery every day. A 2012 report noted that the U.S. State Department claimed the count is roughly 600,000 to 800,0000 people that are trafficked across borders every year.


Apple and the silicon valley coalition behind the open letter to the GCHQ have a number of great points but they also dumb down the issue. A one point towards the end of their argument they state that "Any proposal that undermines user trust penalizes the overwhelming majority of technology users while permitting those few bad actors to shift to readily available products beyond the law’s reach."


Dumbing it down to make people believe that it's only a few "bad actors" is a mindless argument. It's not just a few bad actors, it's about the amount of damage these so-called actors/criminals inflict. The Human trafficking numbers represent only one of many categories of crimes that law enforcement is attempting to stop.


What the GCHQ is proposing is akin to wiretapping that has been around for decades. Law enforcement didn't use that tool against everyday citizens but rather major crime entities and spies.


Apple is doing some great work in exposing how ad companies are tracking us to the extent that they do and so forth is admirable and appreciated. Securing Apple Pay is another winner. Yet sowing the level of fear as they do against law enforcement as evil doers is unfortunate. It's turned the privacy issue into the modern day golden calf. 


In the end, there's no doubt that the privacy issue is a divisive one and one that will continue to be with us for many years to come until Congress does its job and passes new laws. That's not going to happen under its current leadership.


Both sides of the issue happen to have strong arguments. With that being said, expect Apple to double down on all things privacy during tomorrow's WWDC keynote.  


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