The problem with legal intercept and backdoors.

March 13, 2016 at 5:08 pm Leave a comment

There’s a thing that seems to be missed in the debate about encryption. We know exactly what happens if you enforce government sanctioned access to mass communications. We have watched it in the stagnation of the telcos.
You might think I’m exaggerating, but the Legal Intercept (LI) requirements stifle innovation. I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve been in where I’ve been told that a proposed network topology change or customer experience improvement wasn’t possible because of LI. Having the government as a big and legally mandated cash cow slowed innovation to a crawl and hugely reduced the incentives for doing what is best for your other customers.

There is an even more insidious impact. LI enables and facilitates telephone fraud.
The problem is that the telephone system has to be constructed in such a way that legal interception isn’t detectable by the customers who are intercepted. This means that as a telco you can never, by law, offer your customers accurate callerID. If you did, they would be able to tell the difference between a normal call and one with the infamous ‘Man in the Middle’.

So next time you get a call from ‘windows support desk’ trying to defraud you, remember that this could have been engineered out of our phone system years ago but for legal intercept. This is a real societal and economic cost to LI that is often ignored in this debate.

This is why the tech companies are reacting so adversely to what might seem to be reasonable requests from law enforcement. They have seen the stagnation of the telcos and the demise of the core product (voice calls). They know that a whole generation have been raised not to answer the phone because it is almost certainly a liar or a thief on the other end (and probably an automated one at that). Tech companies trade on our attention, they fear the lack of trust the telcos now suffer from. For them this is an existential threat, so they are obliged to try and block it.

 

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