She doesn’t understand email servers, and after last night’s Democratic Presidential debate it seems she doesn’t understand the basics of web privacy either.
In comments that even the ultra-progressive Vox Media outlet The Verge called “borderline illiterate,” Hillary Clinton appeared to simultaneously support and oppose the controversial idea of requiring tech companies to create “back doors” in encrypted online communication networks that are currently near-impenetrable to security agencies.
“Maybe the back door isn’t the right door, and I understand what Apple and others are saying about that,” Clinton mused. ”
However, she then went on to say: “It doesn’t do anybody any good if terrorists can move toward encrypted communication that no law enforcement agency can break into before or after.”
“There must be some way. I don’t know enough about the technology to be able to say what it is, but I have a lot of confidence in our tech experts.”
Clinton did not specify what this would look like, instead speaking in general terms. But if she had any technical knowledge, she would have known that the only way for government to gain access to encrypted communications would be to break the encryption.
In other words, a back door.
It wasn’t the first time Clinton has been open about her ignorance on technical matters, of course. Earlier this year, when asked by journalists if she had attempted to “wipe” a private email server containing classified government emails, Clinton gave the infamous response “what, like, with a cloth or something?”
The journalist then pressed her, saying “you know how it works, digitally,” to which Clinton responded “No, I don’t know how it works digitally at all.”
Similarly to that incident, Clinton’s latest bout of technological illiteracy is politically convenient. Surveillance remains a dangerous topic for Presidential candidates. According to Pew, Democrat supporters divided on the issue of internet and phone surveillance, with 48 per cent opposed and 47 per cent in favour, while independents are opposed by a margin of 57 to 39. Being able to placate both sides, as Clinton did, is the optimal political approach.
The only problem is that you can’t placate both sides, at least on the issue of encryption. What Clinton doesn’t know – or pretends not to know – is that you either have an encrypted system, or you have an encrypted system with back doors. There is no middle ground.
But that’s politically inconvenient.