On November 18th 2015, the Manhattan District Attorney Offices published a new white paper that proposes (well hidden in the text) a general ban on encryption on smartphones as a necessary step towards a better public safety. Cointelegraph conducted a survey of experts to find out, what would be the implications for Blockchain technology, if this legislative project become reality.  

Cyrus Vance, of the Manhattan DA Office, is the author of this white paper that could threaten the existence of blockchain technology. The paper begins saying that:

“Last fall, a decision by a single company changed the way those of us in law enforcement work to keep the public safe and bring justice to victims and their families. In September 2014, Apple Inc. announced that its new operating system for smartphones and tablets would employ, by default, what is commonly referred to as “full-disk encryption,” making data on its devices completely inaccessible without a passcode. Shortly thereafter, Google Inc. announced that it would do the same.

Apple’s and Google’s decisions to enable full-disk encryption by default on smartphones means that law enforcement officials can no longer access evidence of crimes stored on smartphones, even though the officials have a search warrant issued by a neutral judge.”

Cyrus Vance, the Manhattan District Attorney Offices

The obvious solution to the problem, according to Mr. Vance, is to regress back to an ante-cryptography world:

“The federal legislation would provide in substance that any smartphone manufactured, leased, or sold in the U.S. must be able to be unlocked, or its data accessed, by the operating system designer. Compliance with such a statute would not require new technology or costly adjustments.”

Sure, it wouldn’t require new technology or costly adjustments, it would just trash years of research and work to implement them in the software.

Open Source: Existing Bypass?

Alena Vranova, Co-Founder & Director at SatoshiLabs, says that:

“This is a great example of why Open Source software is so important. They can't come and ask SatoshiLabs to implement a backdoor to our Trezor firmware as they could do with proprietary software producers.

By the way: blockchain technology does not use encryption, but signatures. And there's no discussion about banning signatures (yet). They would have to ban online banking or Netflix too.”

Android, the most widespread smartphone operating system on the planet, is Open Source.

This means that even if law would enforce a ban on cryptography to Google, its developer, the OS could still be available for anybody to fork it and add an extension to it.

The end result would see people using the “official” software and being under control, while criminals would use “enhanced” versions of the software.

Alena Vranova, Co-Founder & Director at SatoshiLabs

Governments Can Slow Down Technological Progress

But Can’t Stop It

Asked what would this law bring to the world of software and users, Susanne Tarkowski Tempelhof, CEO of Bitnation answered:

“They can make it harder to use, through attempting to block apps like WhatsApp and Telegram, etc.

They can't prevent people who want to use encryption from using it, but they can make mass adoption more slow and difficult.

It's revolting, but sadly expected, that governments use horrible tragedies like the Paris attack to further strip away people of civil liberties. It's particularly perverted considering the Paris attackers didn't even use any encryption at all... but apparently facts are not of essence in the anti-terror rhetoric.

Governments do not understand that the methods they use to prevent attacks from one threat, will inevitably lead to the end of their own existence.”

Susanne Tarkowski Tempelhof, CEO of Bitnation

If this paper would become law, and all phones in the US become compliant, wouldn’t it be as easy as buying a foreign smartphone, for criminals to bypass it?

Would the customs have to check all the incoming phones for compliancy?

Or even easier, wouldn’t you install the “alternative” operating system, or install some cryptographic utility?

The question is open: does this white paper offer a technically feasible and useful scenario, or is it going to end up as just another tool of control over the common citizen, only affecting criminals in a very small measure?