The same is true of cyber: there's a gulf between how people think it works and how it actually works.
This Lawfare blogpost thinks it's come up with a clever method to get their way in the crypto-backdoor debate, by making carriers like AT&T responsible only for the what ("deliver interpretable signal in response to lawful wiretap order") without defining the how (crypto backdoors, etc.). This pressure would come in the form of removing current liability protections they now enjoy for not being responsible for what customers transmit across their network. Or as the post paraphrases the proposal:
Don’t expect us to protect you from liability for third-party conduct if you actively design your systems to frustrate government efforts to monitor that third-party conduct.The post is proud of its own smarts, as if they've figured out how to outwit mathematicians and redefine pi (π). But their solution is nonsense, based on a hopelessly naive understanding of how the Internet works. It appears all they know about the Internet is what they learned from watching CSI:Cyber.
The Internet is end-to-end. End-to-end is the technology shift that made the Internet happen, as compared to alternative directions cyberspace might have taken.
What that means is AT&T doesn't encrypt traffic. Apple's iPhone don't encrypt traffic. Instead, it's the app installed on the phone that does the encryption. Neither AT&T nor Apple can stop encryption from happening.
You think that because most people use iMessage or Snapchat, that all you have to do is turn the screws on them in order to force them to comply with backdoors. That won't work, because the bad guys will stop using those apps and install different encrypted apps, like Signal. You imagine that it's just a game of wack-a-mole, and eventually you'll pressure all apps into compliance. But Signal is open-source. If it disappeared tomorrow, I'd still have a copy of the source, which I can compile into my own app I'll call Xignal. I'll continue making encrypted phone calls with my own app. Even if no source existed today, I could write my own source within a couple months to do this. Indeed, writing an encrypted chat app is typical homework assignment colleges might assign computer science students. (You people still haven't come to grips with the fact that in cyberspace, we are living with the equivalent of physicists able to whip up a-bombs in their basements).
Running arbitrary software is a loose end that will defeat every solution you can come up with. It's math. The only way forward to fix the "going dark" problem is to ban software code. But that you can't do without destroying the economy and converting the country into a dystopic, Orwellian police state.
You think that those of us who oppose crypto backdoors are hippies with a knee-jerk rejection of any government technological mandate. That's not true. The populists at the EFF love technological mandates in their favor, such as NetNeutrality mandates, or bans on exporting viruses to evil regimes (though they've recently walked back on that one).
Instead, we reject this specific technological mandate, because we know cyber. We know it won't work. We can see that you'll never solve your "going dark" problem, but in trying to, you'll cause a constant erosion of both the economic utility of the Internet and our own civil liberties.
I apologize for the tone of this piece, saying you are stupid about cyber, but that's what it always comes down to. The author of that piece has impressive Washington D.C. think-tanky credentials, but misfires on the basic end-to-end problem. And all think-tanky pieces on this debate are going to happen the same way, because as soon as they bring technologists in to consult on the problem, their desired op-eds become stillborn before anybody sees them.
Note: I get the π analogy from a tweet by @quinnorton, I don't know who came up with analogy originally.