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Spectacular Fear

Posted by on February 23, 2017.

Now I really am worried. Deep in the new Black Report from Nuix (I wrote about it here) is this statement from Terry L. Sult; Chief of Police, Hampton, Virginia. He is lamenting the process of criminals ‘going dark’, hiding from law enforcement behind unbreakable encryption.

“This should seriously concern every law-abiding citizen,” he said. “Unfortunately, it is likely to take a catastrophic incident or a series of catastrophic incidents to wake up those who are most vulnerable and to draw the attention of our police executives.”

The first time I heard similar was in the UK back in the final stages of the First Crypto Wars. In the UK, the government wanted the government to hold all decryption keys in escrow. It failed, of course — but the local Home Office apologist on one of the crypto mailing lists emotionally exclaimed, (words to the effect of) “It will only take one Spectacular [if you can remember the Troubles, you’ll know what I mean] for the public to demand government control of cryptography.”

A few years later we had 9/11 and years and years of the War on Terror — but no government control of cryptography.

Now, lest you fear I am a conspiracy theorist, let me say outright that I do not necessarily believe in a connection between government demands and that particular Spectacular. Those who know me don’t need me to explain how I feel about conspiracy theories.

The reality, however, is that the need for a ‘catastrophic incident’ to change the public mindset was actually followed by a catastrophic incident. I’m just hoping that history doesn’t repeat itself.

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