Debunking "ghost users": MI5's plan to backdoor all secure messaging platforms

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/12/18/daffy-bad-ideas.html

Ghost users huh? Well that’s not a frightening proposal on be half of MI5.

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Why is paper mail protected from being read by the police without cause but electronic mail is not?

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On the one hand, Because the paper mail protections were enacted a long time ago and are now buttressed by scads of legal decisions declaring that opening your mail is a search and thus requires a warrant, which makes removing the protections for paper mail a tough slog.

On the other hand, because your email is stored on the servers of the ISP. Again, scads of legal decisions have, however wrongly, declared that information about you held on the premises of a third party (your account with the utility company, your accountant’s records, your bank’s records) are not “yours” in the same way as stuff in your house is yours, and thus they are not protected from warrantless search.

If email had existed back in the day, it would have been deemed to be just as much yours and just as private as regular mail. If they could do a do-over today, governments would unprotect paper mail in a heartbeat.

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I can imagine a police force having an employee whose job it is to monitor “leftist” social media like this board.

I can imagine creating a weird username that uses the bbs likes system as a way of tagging and tracking all of the users with negative references to police in their comment history.

But then again I’m paranoid of a blackmarket app that is UBER for criminals for burglary, harassment, and person tracking.

Sulla’s proscription was nothing with what we can do to each other today.

Like when my letters are at the local sorting office? The legal difference makes no sense.

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Welcome to Earth, strange being from a distant world where the legal system makes logical sense!

Letters are not allowed to be opened while in the hands of the post office because Ben Franklin did not like the way low paid letter carriers were opening and reading letters to entertain themselves while they were conveying mail across the country. Sure, there’s a load of legal rationalizations that probably hinge on the letter being a) legally your property even before it’s been delivered and b) sealed… but it comes down to someone way back when thought mail should be private and made it so.

ETA: IANAL, but as I understand it, your bank’s records about you are deemed to be business records belonging to the bank, and thus they are not “yours” in the way that the stuff you put in your safe deposit box at the bank is yours. Letters addressed to you are deemed to be your property as soon as the sender puts them in the mail, and thus, like stuff in a safe deposit box, cannot be opened before delivery without a warrant.

I am not completely sure of the insane troll logic used to justify searching email without a warrant, but I think it’s that the text of the message is visible to anyone at the ISP who looks, rendering an email more like a postcard than a sealed letter. If email had something like a seal so that the ISP could not look at it without going through an extra symbolic step of “opening” the message, then they would probably be off limits without a warrant.

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Take me to your leader lawyer

PS I get the difference between an envelope and a postcard and why email may be considered a postcard.

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Request considered.

Denied.

HAND.

You mean, like, say… cryptographically encoding your message?

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I personally would love to be able to listen in on that conversation between Queen and the Queen.

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See Gllaurung above, but also because they have the ability to surreptitiously read paper mail whether they have a warrant or not so this really doesn’t bother them in the least.

Quibble: is this being driven by MI5 or GCHQ (or both)?

For USians:

  • GCHQ is very roughly our equivalent of NSA (signals intelligence)
  • MI5 (real name Security Service, which no one ever uses because of the unfortunate initials) handles counter-espionage, counter-subversion, and counter-terrorism, so sort of like the FBI or DHS, but with no arrest powers (they’re not police) and even less accountability (until 1989 they didn’t even officially exist, despite operating continuously since before WW1)
  • MI6 (real name Secret Intelligence Service) deals with foreign espionage and so is basically our CIA, but with a much worse track record of being infiltrated by the Soviets; they didn’t exist for even longer than MI5, but then went nuts and bought themselves a not-at-all conspicuous SUPER SEKRIT BASE on the banks of the Thames.
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Exactly. What email service sends messages in plain text in 2018 anyway? Another reason encryption is so important.

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Stern measures were taken. It’s all under control now.

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