Julian Sanchez on the Feinstein-Burr Bill

Two excellent posts.

It’s such a badly written bill that I wonder if it’s just there to anchor us to an extreme, so we’re relieved when the actual bill comes along. Me:

“This is the most braindead piece of legislation I’ve ever seen,” Schneier—who has just been appointed a Fellow of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard—told The Reg. “The person who wrote this either has no idea how technology works or just doesn’t care.”

Posted on May 3, 2016 at 1:10 PM31 Comments


Dr. I. Needtob Athe May 3, 2016 2:47 PM

I like that point made in the first link, that “all sorts of technologies — from document shredders to toilets — may help criminals keep incriminating material out of the hands of police.”

The example of document shredders seems more apt than toilets because they’re more closely analogous to encryption – meant for the express purpose of protecting privacy. How would people react to a law outlawing shredders?

Ricky Ricardo May 3, 2016 3:05 PM

OMG this bill makes it illegal to FLUSH THE TOILET!!!! how much more stupid can you get???? (I mean, unless the toilet itself “saves a copy” first in case big brother ever wants to peek! literally!)

At this point, this kind of thing generally is so common it can’t merely be to anchor people to an extreme, and it can’t be merely because our leaders are all stupid, ignorant, or don’t care….. it HAS to be with specific purpose to abolish freedom, democracy, justice, and everything that is right, moral, and good. It’s like there is some ultimate big evil power behind it all.

Daniel May 3, 2016 3:22 PM

“It’s such a badly written bill that I wonder if it’s just there to anchor us to an extreme, so we’re relieved when the actual bill comes along.”

That was my reaction.

Moderation is only a virtue if one is perceived to have an alternative. This bill is the alternative. It’s one of the oldest political gambits around. It allows the sponsors to look like they are giving something up when they “compromise”, when in fact what they are giving up is not something they actually wanted in the first place. But the threat is enough…

Thomas May 3, 2016 3:23 PM

“The person who wrote this either has no idea how technology works or just doesn’t care.”

I’ll go with option 2.

Next time a terrorist is caught with as much a a Capt’n Crunch decoder ring this boob is going to get more air-time than Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction; “I tried to protect you from this, vote for me!”

This bill is as much of a distraction as the fbIphone that led to it. No one expects the bill to pass, just as no one expected Apple to be forced to break their phone.

It’s about setting the mood, directing the conversation, anchoring thoughts.

m0j0 May 3, 2016 3:27 PM

Feinstein is not known for intelligent or well-written legislation.

Her stance on gun control is a classic example. I happen to disagree with her view of the Second Amendment, but she does not make reasonable and logical arguments.

Actual Feinstein quote, “We have federal regulations and state laws that prohibit hunting ducks with more than three rounds. And yet it’s legal to hunt humans with 15-round, 30-round, even 150-round magazines.”

Since when is it legal to hunt humans? ????

Four-pockets Feinstein May 3, 2016 4:41 PM

Feinstein is her hubby’s milch cow. Blum’s kneading her wizened udders right now to pump AVID. Their Qi Sniffer etc. are close enough to surveillance growth markets that he can book another capital gain and, more importantly, burnish his reputation as an influence peddler. When the Chinese catch a crook like Feinstein they just take her out and shoot her. When they’ve bought up the rest of California, they surely will do.

65535 May 3, 2016 4:48 PM

“The person[s] who wrote this either has no idea how technology works or just doesn’t care.” –Bruce S.

Or Both. To say “brain-dead” is generous at best and only the tip of the iceberg – with the average Joe/Jane sailing off in the Titanic Security Theater Boat.

Add a dash of greed and a grab for power and you have a bill where democracy will be turned on its head.

If you read the actual bill it provides complete voice, text and location surveillance on the average Joe – yet provides encryption for the government/police and politicians.

The government will be able to spy on the average Joe – but, the average Joe cannot spy on the government. It’s a one-way mirror.

Just ask Feinstein and Burr to hand over their encrypted phones, tablets, and laptops for the average Joe to inspect and a see what that gets you – nothing. It’s encryption for ‘Thee Politicians’ and not for me ‘the average Jane and Joe.’

This bill could be very helpful for Politicians in the upcoming election. The Politicians will know which districts need Gerrymandering and which ballot boxes to be stuffed.

The same goes for the elected Sheriffs and other players in the “law enforcement” game.

They don’t care about the average Joe getting his bank card skimmed or how these back doors will be used by criminals and foreign malefactors. They don’t care about Apples sales of iPhones and iPads.

The Politicians only care about their own encrypted cell phones, security squads and private jets and limos. Flush the US economy and US constitution down the toilet so Politicians can remain in power and to Hades for the average Joe and his bill of rights.

This bill belongs in the shredder.

Eldoran May 3, 2016 4:57 PM

Outlawing lossy compression COULD make sense – jpeg is common for steganography. And if cryptography for privacy is outlawed, steganography is the logical alternative.

Rex Rollman May 3, 2016 5:05 PM

One of the things that terrorists want to do is to destroy our way of life and the liberties we enjoy. They really can’t accomplish this themselves, but thanks to the sponsors of this bill, it may happen.

In my personal opinion, Senator Richard Burr and Senator Dianne Feinstein should be tried for treason, as all this bill really does is provide aid and comfort to the enemy.

Sancho_P May 3, 2016 5:43 PM

The question is: What is encryption?
Is it defined by “only garbage”?
What is the difference between encrypted and plain text?

“Bruce, you are indeed a honorable man!” – is it encrypted or plain?
Yes, one could distinct between honest or dishonest – but who would know the truth?

“We’ll start the party on Tuesday, exactly at 1:00 pm.”
What does it mean?

We can’t legislate what we don’t understand.
It might be encrypted, thus we don’t understand?

Tom Kenney May 3, 2016 7:00 PM


They can certainly mandate one-way-mirrors, but who’s gonna write their encryption algos? Seems like they are pissing off anyone that can actually get it done. And if they try to compel some company to order an employee to write it, who will review the code to ensure the (likely now disgruntled) employee did not slip in his/her own backdoor?

CarpetCat May 3, 2016 8:33 PM

“Schneier — who has just been appointed a Fellow of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard”

Great. Soon you’ll be in charge of something political, they’ll run an ornate sword through your chest, lean you foward and tell us you ‘fell on it’.

Gweihir May 3, 2016 9:21 PM

The thing I find most repulsive about this “bill” is that they basically claim in the preamble that the law shapes and defines reality. That is about as totalitarian and ass-backwards as it gets. The only legitimate purpose the law has in a free society is to limit the extremes and to limit what egoistic and misguided people can do to others before they are stopped. No further purpose and in particular no claim at all to define reality. Nothing noble about it. It is a stop-gap, an inglorious safety-mechanism, a “patch” if you so will. And it is by its very nature evil, because it limits freedom. It is very important to make sure at all times that it never comes even close to be as evil as the things it limits. This bill qualifies as being more evil.

Lefty May 4, 2016 12:27 AM

Soon after outlawing the shredders, The Beloved Leaders will notice an inescapable craving to also ban A) hamsters, or B) matches, lighters, and metal pots.

(Considering how easy & quick it is to burn old paperwork I always wondered why people are so focused on shredding them)

Gweihir May 4, 2016 1:19 AM

1. You probably have never had to dispose of sensitive material inside an office-building.
2. A modern office-shredder is far easier to use and far faster than burning anything.
3. Burning is insecure unless you carefully separate the pages, infeasible on large numbers.

fajensen May 4, 2016 6:13 AM

Since when is it legal to hunt humans?

Ever since Dear Leader Obama decided to bring some Hope & Change to clean up after Bush+Cheney and made it legal!

We dumb hicks here even thought that torture and indefinite detention was also illegal – we even used to hang people for that. But, the Great Light of The West Obama showed us, he did.

Feinstein have access to read the secret laws and slipped up. That’s why.

Jim May 4, 2016 7:32 AM

When toilets are outlawed, only outlaws will have toilets. What next, matches and lighters, because you’d be able to burn the sought-after documents? How about magnifying glasses or two sticks you can rub together, for those who have the skills to start a fire that way? This is getting absolutely ludicrous.

How about this – we’ll give you (the government) unfettered access to everything of ours when you give us (the public) unfettered access to all of your stuff. That means no more classified information, secret White House meetings, and all bills in Congress are to be vetted by the public completely and openly for 30 days or more before being put to a vote. Ha! Like that will ever happen!

aikimark May 4, 2016 7:42 AM

ZOMG. Richard Burr?!? That’s yet another reason to be ashamed of my state 🙁

OldFish May 4, 2016 8:24 AM

Prohibition – because it has worked out so beautifully every time it has been tried

Hott the Moople May 4, 2016 10:30 AM

Agree with your points. Plus, shredded paper is easier to burn. 😉

Frankenstein-Barf Bill May 4, 2016 10:44 AM

This is interesting regarding the intended backdooring:

device manufacturers, software manufacturers, electronic communication services, remote communication services, providers of wire or electronic communication services, providers of remote communication services, or any person who provides a product or method to facilitate a communication or to process or store data.

That’s all well and good, but not every device manufacturer, software company, electronic communication service or general provider is American?

So unless everything belongs to the US now, I don’t see how this will prevent the use of open-source software, hardware etc. that is not back-doored from the point of creation from being used by poor sods living in the Police States of America?

For instance, lets say that Open Whisper Systems (Signal) decided to move their base of operations to an overseas jurisdiction prior to the passage of this fascist bill and didn’t operate a single server for messages and calls in the United Stasi? Seems that wizened hag Frankenstein bill would be dead in its tracks. Further, other O/S groups could simply develop systems piggybacking off the code outside the US?

Still, a very depressing trajectory the hyper-power is on.

All we need is for that buffoon Trump to win the next election (dead raccoon on his head and all) and the country is gone (for all of his self-started bullshit, he’s basically Jaden Smith with a comb over). 😉

paul May 4, 2016 11:20 AM

any person who provides a product or method to facilitate a communication or to process or store data.

So all code on Github must be modified with a backdoor. Whee.

This actually bears a certain resemblance to early versions of what became CALEA, where in theory anyone who had a LAN — or possibly anyone who ran an externally attached disk drive would have been required to provide government access to their data streams (and somehow in a way that would have prevented anyone from knowing when the data streams were being tapped, or which streams).

r May 4, 2016 12:07 PM

So, it’s a placeholder for a real bill?

Since the daft fellow who drafted this was using billable hours financed by tax payer dollars can we petition for redress?

Clive Robinson May 4, 2016 1:56 PM

@ ,

So unless everything belongs to the US now, I don’t see how this will prevent the use of open-source software, hardware etc.

It will happen due to “inventory cost”.

If you think back, only the US said mobile phones had to have GPS –trackers– in them for “safety reasons”.

Even if you are not in the US trying to buy a smart phone without a US GPS tracker hardware in it is not an easy task.

The reason is the cost of manufacturing two different phones one with and one without the US GPS tracker hardware and the “inventory costs” arising is way more expensive than making just one phone. So everybody gets the US GPS tracker hardware.

The same logic unless the EU produces counter legislation will apply to all “Fast Moving Consumer Equipment (FMCE) comming out of the Far East. That is the way of the world and the TTIP negotiations show considerable “bad will” on behalf of the US in areas where they can manipulate the trade process to get such “backdoored” products forced into every national market that has signed on of Obama’s Trade Treaties, they are without doubt a poisend chalice.

If the EU has any sense they will shout “Non Non Non” or “Nein Nein Nein” not what that walkover Cameron had said “Yes Yes Oh Yes” (same as he does any time pork gets mentioned).

ianf May 4, 2016 5:29 PM

@ Clive […] “If the EU has any sense…”

Could you settle for plenty of nonsense instead?

Just asking. No need to respond with a 7kb parable.

EH May 4, 2016 8:30 PM

This is masking another issue as well: the idea that law enforcement has a right to all evidence that ever existed.

Wael May 5, 2016 12:16 AM


No need to respond with a 7kb parable.

Phorgive me for jumping in, but I need to comfort you a little. I wouldn’t worry too much about it. A 7kb parable is significantly more formidable than the 57 character one that challenged the living day lights out of your wits 😉

Besides, I like reading Clive’s notes! If you remember, these are the inverse of Cliff’s notes!. Say! You got these book series in ummmmm … Italy?

Brandon May 5, 2016 12:50 PM

It’s such a badly written bill that I wonder if it’s just there to anchor us to an extreme, so we’re relieved when the actual bill comes along.

That’s what happened, with SOPA, right? I seem to recall a bill was very quietly passed about a week after SOPA was defeated, which did basically the exact same thing everybody had been protesting about.

Curious May 6, 2016 4:32 AM

I am inclined to think of laws made vague as being similar to what like to think of as being “super powers”, here assuming ofc that anyone with the means to interpret such vague law, have the intention to always get away with it, as if the intention is to be cirumventing the law.

An expression like “we are a country of law” seem imo meaningless in this regard, and imo comes to mean ‘order’, something authoritarian, making it no better than the ancient Chinese culture of authority, seeking to bring order to all-under-heaven.

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.