Making Security Illegal

A recent court ruling has potentially made secure devices and effective security services illegal:

The Canadian executive of a 10-year-old company that marketed its purportedly secure BlackBerry services to thousands of criminals (who paid at least $4,000 per year, per device) has pleaded guilty to a racketeering conspiracy charge, federal prosecutors in San Diego said Tuesday.


As the Department of Justice said in a Tuesday statement:

To keep the communications out of the reach of law enforcement, Ramos and others maintained Phantom Secure servers in Panama and Hong Kong, used virtual proxy servers to disguise the physical location of its servers, and remotely deleted or “wiped” devices seized by law enforcement. Ramos and his co-conspirators required a personal reference from an existing client to obtain a Phantom Secure device. And Ramos used digital currencies, including Bitcoin, to facilitate financial transactions for Phantom Secure to protect users’ anonymity and launder proceeds from Phantom Secure. Ramos admitted that at least 450 kilograms of cocaine were distributed using Phantom Secure devices.


At the time of his arrest, the Department of Justice said that the Ramos case was the “first time the U.S. government has targeted a company and its leaders for assisting a criminal organization by providing them with technology to ‘go dark,’ or evade law enforcement’s detection of their crimes.”

From what I could ascertain, the reason Vincent Ramos was arrested, charged, and declared guilty was because he offered a device and service that allowed his customers to actually remain anonymous. This is what most Virtual Private Network (VPN) providers, I2P, Tor, and other anonymity services offer so will one of them be the next Department of Justice target?

I’m going to take this opportunity to go on a related tangent. Ramos was charged because his devices and service were being used by other people to facilitate illegal activities such as selling cocaine. Ramos himself wasn’t, as far as I can tell, performing those illegal activities. Since the illegal actions in this case weren’t performed by Ramos, why was he charged with anything? Because the illegal activities being performed with his devices and service were related to the drug war and the drug war has served as the United States government’s excuse to go after anybody it doesn’t like.

Anything that can be tacitly tied to the drug war can be punished. If an officer doesn’t like you, they can claim that the cash you have on hand is evidence that you are participating in drug crimes and use civil forfeiture to seize your stuff. If your roommate is dealing drugs without your knowledge, prosecutors can claim that you actually do have knowledge and charge you with a plethora of crimes. If you offer a product that anonymizes users, prosecutors can charge you for aiding drug dealers. All of the supposed civil rights you enjoy suddenly go out the window when the word drugs is involved.