The Wall Street Journal has been a reliably pro-surveillance voice over the years, calling Snowden a “sociopath” while calling for even less NSA oversight, making up bizarre conspiracy theories, and fighting back against any surveillance reform. It even once argued that the tech industry should put backdoors into its encryption to better help the surveillance state.

That’s what makes its recent editorial, The Encryption Farce (possibly behind a paywall, though the version I just opened showed up fine), so remarkable. It completely bashes the FBI over its attempts to force Apple to build a backdoor into its encryption — though mainly because of the ridiculous fact that in the two most high profile cases, the DOJ magically got into the phones just as the cases got serious. The WSJ editorial doesn’t pull any punches, asking what the hell is going on at the Justice Department:

If history repeats itself first as tragedy and then as farce, what does the FBI have in store next for its encryption war with Apple? After withdrawing its demands in San Bernardino and then reopening hostilities with a drug prosecution in Brooklyn, the G-men abruptly dumped the second case over the weekend too. Is anyone in charge at the Justice Department, or are junior prosecutors running the joint?

The editorial goes on to mock the FBI’s claim that these cases are all about getting into just that phone, and notes that constantly finding ways in at the last minute are destroying the FBI’s credibility.

This second immaculate conception in as many months further undermines the FBI’s credibility about its technological capabilities. Judges ought to exercise far more scrutiny in future decryption cases even as Mr. Comey continues to pose as helpless.

It goes on to suggest that the FBI stop bringing these cases, and that the President and the DOJ should put an end to this ridiculous attack on encryption:

Yet forgive us if this “conversation” now seems more like a Jim Comey monologue. The debate might start to be productive if the FBI Director would stop trying to use the courts as an ad hoc policy tool and promised not to bring any more cases like the one in Brooklyn.

Meanwhile, the White House has taken the profile-in-courage stand of refusing to endorse or oppose any encryption bill that Congress may propose. If the Obama team won’t start adjusting to the technological realities of strong and legal encryption, they could at least exercise some adult supervision at Main Justice.

On its own, such an editorial might not seem like a huge deal, but coming from the Wall Street Journal — a source that has previously championed much greater surveillance and even supported backdoors — it’s a surprising shift. And it shows just how badly the DOJ and FBI miscalculated in their attempts to use the courts to get their desired results in breaking encryption.



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