On Rusbridger and cryptography

I watched the grilling of Alan Rusbridger by the Home Affairs Select Committee on Tuesday with fascination. I hadn’t expected FedEx, Disneyland, gay GCHQ members, or Black & Decker to feature in that! I looked at it with “security” glasses on, so I was fascinated by the MPs’ attempts to establish that the transmission and storage of the files had been insecure. Rusbridger declined to answer in detail except to say everyone had been aware of the uniquely sensitive nature of the materials, and that they had used “military-grade” encryption. None of the questions asked did anything to establish security or not – they might have probed about algorithms, key storage, etc. In any case I haven’t seen any evidence they would have had the competence to draw sensible conclusions. Still afterwards the Cabinet Office presented the non-secure storage and transport as a fact. Based on what? Some thoughts and speculations on that in my latest piece at TheConversation (same story also on Kent comments site). Comments on TheConversation are getting interesting.

My piece doesn’t touch on press freedom – on purpose, enough being said elsewhere and not my expertise. It seems most of the world, like me, finds many aspects of this entire thing rather shocking. It looks like the government is unwilling to prosecute the Guardian for posting 26 embarassing stories based on secret documents that they “shouldn’t have”, but instead they might be going for what feels to me a technicality: the copy of Snowden files sent to New York Times was unredacted (i.e. had names in it, unlike any of the published stories) and was sent to a foreign country (the US, where most of the files originated!) in an allegedly insecure way. It is unclear to me after watching the session whether this might also apply to the files seized off David Miranda: Greenwald c.s. were acting as free-lance journalists in this, so that copy of the files may not have been “under control of the Guardian”. Discussion about “only Greenwald having all the files” suggests as much. Legality of that seizure is still being determined, but nothing suggests that that has stopped police and/or GCHQ from trying to decrypt for the last nearly 4 months. How can Rusbridger be so sure they have not succeeded? Interesting questions in all of this.

Finally … Rusbridger’s throwaway comment about Afghanistan and Iraq may have been an implicit threat to the government, but it also predictably got Wikileaks wound up.