News From The Crypto War Frontline In New York

I continue to be amused by politicians’ efforts to prohibit math. A bill has been introduce in New York that would require manufacturers to implement backdoors in their mobile devices or face… some kind of consequence, I guess:

A New York assemblyman has reintroduced a new bill that aims to essentially disable strong encryption on all smartphones sold in the Empire State.

Among other restrictions, the proposed law states that “any smartphone that is manufactured on or after January 1, 2016 and sold or least in New York, shall be capable of being decrypted and unlocked by its manufacturer or its operating system provider.”

If it passes both houses of the state legislature and is signed by the governor, the bill would likely be the first state law that would impose new restrictions on mobile-based cryptography. Undoubtedly, if it makes it that far, the law would likely face legal challenges from Apple and Google, among others.

One of the great things about democracy is if a vote doesn’t go the way you want you can reintroduce the vote and waste everybody’s time again.

One question you have to ask is how this bill could be enforced. As written, it would punish sellers who sold phones that couldn’t be decrypted by law enforcers. But New York isn’t that big of a landmass and Ars Technia points out the rather obvious flaw in Assemblyman Titone’s clever plan:

UPDATE 3:49pm ET: Also, it’s worth pointing out that even if this bill does pass, it wouldn’t be terribly difficult for New Yorkers to cross a state line to buy a smartphone.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientists to see what would happen if this bill was signed into law. Sellers in New York may go under but sellers in neighboring states would see a jump in sales. In addition to sellers in neighboring states, the sales of online stores would likely increase as well since, you know, you can just order a cell phone online and have it delivered to your home.

Part of me is amused by the idea of strong cryptography being outlawed. Imagine millions of Android users flashing customer firmware just so they could remove government mandated backdoors. Such a prohibition would almost certainly create a sizable black market for flashing customer firmware.