Despite all the scare talk from the FBI and the US intelligence services about terrorists "going dark" and using encrypted communications to talk with one another, the reality is that criminals are using crypto less than ever, according to the DoJ's own numbers.
There's a playbook for the "going dark" story. After every major terrorist attack, anonymous law enforcement sources tell the likes of the New York Times that the reason they didn't stop this attack was because of nefarious crypto, then, we discover that not only did they communicate in the clear, they also kept their plans in a Desktop folder called "TARGET."
But in 2015, the number of wiretaps authorized by US state courts rose by 21% (an alarming figure in its own right, especially since not one of those requests was turned down), while the number of times in which these wiretaps ran into any form of crypto fell, from 22 incidents to 7. For federal wiretaps, the total number of crypto encounters was 4, and one of those was with bad crypto that law enforcement could break.
Yes, someday terrorists and other crooks will start using crypto, because someday, everyone will, because not using crypto while using the big, gnarly, fuggly, compromised internet is stupid. But there's no crypto that works for good guys — that is, you, when you're downloading new firmware for the pacemaker that keeps you alive, or conversing with your lawyer, or looking at the feed from the camera in your living room — and fails for the bad guys.
Until the day comes where we're all using crypto, though, law enforcement just doesn't have a problem. Their demand for universal sabotage of all security technology should be greeted with intense scrutiny no matter what, but especially in the absence of any evidence. I mean, even if you think it's never cool to eat your seatmate, even if your plane strands you all on a mountainside, it's even less cool to eat your seatmate before take-off, just in case.
Despite a 21 percent increase in wiretaps authorized by state courts overall between 2014 and 2015, the number of cases where law enforcement encountered encryption decreased from 22 to seven.
And out of 1,403 wiretaps authorized by federal judges, only six encountered encrypted communication. Two of those were decrypted by law enforcement, leaving only four that could not be deciphered.
In 2014, federal wiretaps encountered four encrypted communications, three of which could not be deciphered. (The 2014 figures include one 2014 wiretap that was not reported to the courts until 2015.)
That means that in 2015, out of 4,148 total wiretaps, only 11 encountered a form of encryption law enforcement could not break. That's about one quarter of one percent.
Official Tally of Wiretaps Belies Government Scare Stories About Encryption
[Alex Emmons/The Intercept]