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CryptoCat Developer Questioned At US-Canadian Border 271

Posted by timothy
from the algorithms-please dept.
Dangerous_Minds writes "ZeroPaid is documenting some comments made by an encrypted chat developer who was interrogated at the U.S. border recently. According to the CryptoCat developer, border guards confiscated his passport and interrogated him about the application he developed. Most notably, he commented, "The interrogator (who claimed 22 years of computer experience) asked me which algorithms Cryptocat used and about its censorship resistance.""
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CryptoCat Developer Questioned At US-Canadian Border

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  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Thursday June 07, 2012 @08:46AM (#40243023) Journal

    According to the CryptoCat developer, border guards confiscated his passport

    Maybe I'm the only one that was confused by that but the phrasing of this in the summary lead me to believe that they confiscated his passport indefinitely in some sort of draconian move to prevent him from leaving the country or traveling in general. But, luckily, I read the article:

    This [twitter.com]: “Also worth noting: my passport was confiscated for around an hour.”

    I'm not saying it's okay but I've been pulled into secondary coming back from the Caribbean and, the customs official had my passport for about 45-60 minutes while he asked me the stupidest of questions (far more mundane and pointless than what algorithms I develop).

    • by chill (34294) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @08:52AM (#40243093) Journal

      Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. A secondary screening can take anywhere from 15 minutes to a couple of hours normally. It'll be much longer if they really think they have something on you. But going through an hour of the bureaucracy and questioning isn't something to really write a letter home about. A footnote, maybe, but not a letter.

      Would the dev felt better if it was an hour of pointless and inane questions?

      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 07, 2012 @08:59AM (#40243143)

        I've crossed the border between Russia and just about anywhere you can think of that shares a border with Russia. I have never ever been interrogated at their border. I've even crossed the Ukrainian Moldovan border with another individual who overstayed his visa for months. They barely asked any questions even then, they just walked him to a nearby bank and had him pay a fine (the fine is paid directly to the bank to prevent the possibility of the border guard pocketing it). I even overstayed my own visa while exiting Ukraine. I didn't even miss my flight.
         
        People need to realize that the United States has a very brutal regime in charge at the moment.

        • by moogied (1175879)
          Yes Boris.. yyeesss!!
        • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 07, 2012 @09:09AM (#40243249)

          While I sympathize with the criticism of our government, I think it's a bit hyperbolic to call this "brutal", especially when the comparison is with Russia where protesters are routinely rounded up and will now be forced to pay fines up to $20,000 [latimes.com] for merely protesting the regime.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            We just mace them instead.

          • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 07, 2012 @09:38AM (#40243553)

            They're far more dangerous than most people realize: the checks and balances and legal avenues of appeal that US citizens are used to don't apply on the border for non-citizens. They can jail you indefinitely, subject to appeals from your native country if they wish. If your "native" country doesn't care (eg. you are an asylum seeker) you can rot in jail indefinitely.

            Google whats happened to citizens of "former countries", for example. If you break the law in the US, you go to jail. Fair enough. Typically if you're not a US citizen you may be deported. What happens if your original country no longer exists, or won't take you? you can sit in jail indefinitely. There were several thousand in this position the last time a journalist investigated (oh, and FOIA requests are pretty hard here too).

            I'm posting AC because I have relatives in the US in a similar position. They are in a small, Pacifist Christian sect. They left Ireland (sent to relatives in US) in the 1940s as children, less than 10 at the time; they are now retirees, and naturalized, but not US citizens: becoming citizens would mean swearing an oath to defend the US, which they will not do as pacifists. Their children are US citizens and don't have to swear this oath.

            Now, they have to be careful: their children are active in the antiwar movement and have frequently been arrested on protests. Small, non-violent stuff. But if they go near a protest, they risk being arrested: they will be deported "back home" after they have paid the fine, etc. They are in their 70s and don't ever remember Ireland, never mind have friends and relatives there. Any small infringement: traffic violation, etc. can ruin their lives, on the whim of an ICE official.

            So when you see that nice American granny in your neighborhood, upstanding member of the community, don't imagine they don't live in fear of arbitrary "American Justice".

            • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 07, 2012 @10:31AM (#40244203)

              It possible to get a waiver on religious grounds for the part of the oath that requires you to bear arms. See http://www.uscis.gov/files/article/chapter5.pdf

              I don't think your relatives looked very carefully at the citizenship process.

              • by Hatta (162192)

                Facilitating murder is just as bad as murder. That you don't wield the weapon yourself is no excuse.

                • by nedlohs (1335013)

                  There's no difference between being a citizen and a permanent resident in terms of facilitating.

                  So that's completely irrelevant. Not to mention that the oath was the problem not the citizenship since the kids who are citizens without swearing an oath are all fine and dandy.

            • by TheSpoom (715771) <[ten.00mrebu] [ta] [todhsals]> on Thursday June 07, 2012 @11:08AM (#40244735) Homepage Journal

              Some things in your story don't pass my BS test as an immigrant from Canada preparing to Naturalize in a year or so...

              naturalized, but not US citizens

              Naturalization [wikipedia.org] means to become a citizen of a country other than by means of birth. Hence, you can't naturalize and not be a citizen by definition. Did you mean they were / are lawful permanent residents?

              becoming citizens would mean swearing an oath to defend the US, which they will not do as pacifists.

              From the USCIS Guide to Naturalization [uscis.gov] (PDF links in page, quote is from Chapter 5):

              Waiver or Modification of the Oath of Allegiance.

              In certain circumstances there can be a modification or waiver of the Oath of Allegiance. These circumstances are as follows:

                If you are unable or unwilling to promise to bear arms or perform noncombatant service because of religious training and belief, you may request to leave out those parts of the oath. USCIS may require you to provide documentation from your religious organization explaining its beliefs and stating that you are a member in good standing.

                If you are unable or unwilling to take the oath with the words “on oath” and “so help me God” included, you must notify USCIS that you wish to take a modified Oath of Allegiance. Applicants are not required to provide any evidence or testimony to support a request for this type of modification. See 8 CFR 337.1(b).

                USCIS can waive the Oath of Allegiance when it is shown that the person’s physical or developmental disability, or mental impairments, makes them unable to understand, or to communicate an understanding of, the meaning of the oath. See 8 USC 337.

              Frankly, USCIS is remarkably accepting here, and if it was brought up to an immigration officer I'm certain they'd advise your parents of the possibility of a modified Oath. So either your parents don't know about this, are assuming it can't be modified, and haven't tried, or your whole story is fabricated.

              • by Hatta (162192)

                If you are unable or unwilling to promise to bear arms or perform noncombatant service because of religious training and belief, you may request to leave out those parts of the oath. USCIS may require you to provide documentation from your religious organization explaining its beliefs and stating that you are a member in good standing.

                If you are unable or unwilling to take the oath with the words âoeon oathâ and âoeso help me Godâ included, you must notify USCIS that you

                • by TheSpoom (715771)

                  One could argue that atheism was one's "religion", and provide a self-written document stating as such (I'd personally give it about a 50/50 shot depending on the immigration officer). Yes, I think it could be clearer, and if they do actually refuse citizenship to pacifist atheists for this reason, the ACLU should get involved.

            • by slew (2918) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @11:25AM (#40245013)

              A small technicality, but if have "naturalized" in the US, you are a naturalized US citizen. If you have not become a US citizen, but have the visa to live in the US on a permanent basis (via a "green-card"), you are technically called a permanent resident.

              When I hear about situations like this (e.g., permanent residents that do not wish to return to their country of origin, nor become US citizens). I don't really feel sorry for them. Like everyone in live we make choices and many times, those choices have consequences, and sometimes it is a choice between the lesser of two evils.

              Very few groups respond positively to criticism from outside, why not join us and complain from the inside? I say to such folks, you live in one of the few countries in the world where it is fairly easy (although slowly) to become a citizen. If you really want to own your life, join with us. Then you can gripe with us about our government and vote your choice, rather than scold us with one foot out-of-the-door with a "holier-than-thou" chip on your shoulder...

              If someone objects to taking the "modified" oath (as allowed by law and listed below), then I suggest that they don't believe in our constitution, have no desire to support the people of our country more than a typical random joe in a random country in the world, or more likely are just being difficult on purpose to set themselves apart for some personal reason... That's a choice you are free to make, but don't expect the US to help...

              I hereby declare, and solemnly affirm, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion.

          • As opposed to the US, where a paramilitary team will invade your home with grenades and assault rifles if an informant claims that you are growing illegal plants there?
          • by cpu6502 (1960974)

            It says UPTO $20,000 and it's no different than the U.S. (Yes Occupy protesters have been fined by police.) This CryptoCat story reminds me of when a Campaign for Liberty (ronpaul) volunteer was detained by the TSA while traveling from St.Louis to D.C. They demanded to know why he was carrying over $4000 in cash. He refused to answer given that it was none of their business (plus the fact Missouri via the MIAC Report were holding CFL people as "potential terrorists").

            OF Course the SA has done much wors

        • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Thursday June 07, 2012 @09:21AM (#40243345) Journal

          People need to realize that the United States has a very brutal regime in charge at the moment.

          In my opinion and from experience it's not about brutality, it's about money. Sure, if they find something on you that links you to Al-Queda, you're in trouble. They'll treat you like any Allied nation would treat a Nazi war criminal. But the secondary that you're often pulled into has the primary purpose of tariffs and taxes that you might owe the government. Next on their list is export/import control of stuff like Cuban cigars or controlled substances.

          So I used to be in a band and this band told me a story about how they were crossing the US-Canada border to play one show at a bar. Well, they were in their van, they had weed on them and they had all their guitars and crap and the side of their van said their band name. Well, they made up some excuse about how they were just "passing through" and after an hour of googling, the border guards determined that their intent was to play a show at a bar. They didn't have work permits and, as such, were denied entry. The weed wasn't a problem. The problem was that they were trying to go "work" at a bar and, as a result, a bar owner became very very upset with them. Guess which country's border guards did this to them? Canada's. Is Canada a "very brutal regime"? No.

          What happened with the CryptoCat guy is that they asked him what he did for work and he got too specific. One of the guards apparently knows that there is export control on levels of encryption [wikipedia.org]. There was a very very famous case about this involving Phil Zimmerman and PGP [wikipedia.org] that I think has since been dropped. Of course, the guards came to the conclusion that this guy wasn't purposefully exporting high level encryption software to enemy entities. So nothing came of it after they googled for an hour.

          Just because Russian border guards are lax or corrupt doesn't mean "the United States has a very brutal regime in charge at the moment." 'Brutal' means savagely violent, vicious, ruthless, or cruel ... I think the words you were looking for are arcane, ignorant, laughable, annoying, etc. If you cry wolf at the stupid stuff, nobody's going to listen to you about the genuinely bad stuff.

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by anwaya (574190)

            "Brutal" is perhaps a little extreme: "Authoritarian" may be more appropriate.

            I also have an anecdote. I moved to the US in 1994, and at one time, maybe I overstayed my visa-waiver, or maybe the I-94 was lost, either by me or the airline or US Immigration. In 1995 I got an H1-B and I've had a Green Card now for over 10 years. Every time since 9/11 it's a toss-up when I go through Immigration to enter the US whether the the DHS will Select me for Secondary Screening, even though I am a legal, documented im

          • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

            by ultranova (717540)

            They'll treat you like any Allied nation would treat a Nazi war criminal.

            They hire you? [wikipedia.org]

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Lazy Jones (8403)

            In my opinion and from experience it's not about brutality, it's about money

            Since you mentioned Nazis: money was one of the factors that drove the Nazi regime too. The question in both cases is: at what point do the insane ideologists take over (look at the Republican candiates for 2012...)? So it's not like it being about money at this time means we're not going in an entirely wrong direction. Regarding "brutal" - what would you call gitmo, all the secret CIA prisons, mass killing of suspects (as ordered by the president)? It's not something that affects us at the border controls

        • by wpi97 (901954) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @09:40AM (#40243559)
          I suppose you have never heard the song by Timur Shaov about crossing the border from Russia into Ukraine...

          Going back to the facts, any time you try to enter a foreign country there is a chance that you may be interrogated, or even refused entry for any reason. This does not make a regime "brutal" in any way.

          On the other hand, in Russia you need a "registration" to be allowed to stay in Moscow, even if you are a Russian citizen. And police can stop you on the street and arrest you or extort money from you if you do not have the registration. You might want to ask the migrant workers from Central Asia about that. I have never heard of any sort of registration being required for staying in Washington DC or New York City.

          By the way, do you own a car in Russia? How many times did you have to pay a bribe to the police?

        • Asking questions is such a hostile act. I don't know how my predecesors dealt with such abuse! It's downright inhumane I tell you. Such brutality must be stamped out everywhere.

          Let me follow...
          Ukrainian border security underpaid, uninterested, and don't do their jobs. Therefore, this is the right way to do things.
          US border security actually does something, like ask questions (omg). Therefore they're being brutal.

        • I've crossed the border between Russia and just about anywhere you can think of that shares a border with Russia. I have never ever been interrogated at their border. I've even crossed the Ukrainian Moldovan border with another individual who overstayed his visa for months. They barely asked any questions even then, they just walked him to a nearby bank and had him pay a fine (the fine is paid directly to the bank to prevent the possibility of the border guard pocketing it). I even overstayed my own visa while exiting Ukraine. I didn't even miss my flight.

          You forgot to mention that you work for the KGB...

          (joking)

        • "People need to realize that the United States has a very brutal regime in charge at the moment"

          It seem that way now, but it hasn't really started yet!

          I'm so blessed that I am old and (I hope) don't live to see it reach it's horrifying conclusion.
          It will make the Third Reich seem warm and fuzzy by comparison!

      • by 1s44c (552956)

        If you accept that as normal there is something wrong with either you or your country. This wasn't bureaucracy, it was police state tactics.

        I travel from country to country all the time and have never been detained for longer than about 45 minutes, and that was just queuing. I stopped going to the US when they started treating travelers like convicts some years back. As far as I can tell instead of getting better the situation just keeps getting worse. It's a shame really as I would love to go shopping and

        • by denobug (753200)
          You think US border agents were bad? Try Canadian! They took longer and ask for more annoying questions!
        • by chill (34294)

          Normal? No. Not really anything to raise a fuss about.

          HOWEVER, I'd be seriously concerned if I was flagged for secondary screenings on multiple trips, like this person claimed.

          Being tagged 3 times out of 4 would worry me a hell of a lot more than an hour-long chat about what I do.

    • by JaredOfEuropa (526365) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @09:04AM (#40243191) Journal
      I've been pulled aside as well, took about 30 minutes of answering pointless questions. That was a random check though, or maybe the guy just didn't like my face. The question here is: was this guy singled out because of his work on CryptoCat, or was he randomly pulled out of line, with the questions arriving at some point at the work he's doing? "Why are you here? Where did you depart from? Was the trip for business or pleasure? What line of work are you in?" At this point, the guy might have brought up the crypto stuff, after which the interviewer focussed on that.
    • Unconfirmed reports clarify that it was not CryptoCat that was detained, but rather someone carrying a Cue:Cat.

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @08:55AM (#40243111) Homepage

    He holds 3 certifications in Word, Minesweeper, and Internet Explorer. Dont try and pull a fast one over him.

    This is elegant proof that DHS is a waste of taxpayer money. 30 seconds on google would have given him more detail than any interrogation would have revealed.

    Hey DHS, I'll take Director of IT position for only $290,000 a year. I cracked the secret of CryptoCat for you....

    https://github.com/kaepora/cryptocat [github.com]

    Everything is right there, and I did not have to waterboard anyone.

    • Re:DHS CS Expert. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by BlueMonk (101716) <BlueMonkMN@gmail.com> on Thursday June 07, 2012 @09:06AM (#40243201) Homepage

      Yeah, and if a government rep. spent just 30 seconds on Google to find an article accusing this person of espionage due to Trojans embedded in his software, which led to his arrest and imprisonment as he crossed the border, even though his software has no such defect, would your comment be, "Just talk to the guy and let him defend himself! Not everything one reads on the internet is fact, government idiots."?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 07, 2012 @09:06AM (#40243207)

      In all fairness, that Minesweeper cert is a hard one. I'm not going to tell you how many times I failed that exam before finally passing. I mean, you never really know where to start, and often you just end up guessing and hoping you get it right.

      -- AC, MCMS, Pinball Wizard

    • Re:DHS CS Expert. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by jonnythan (79727) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @09:08AM (#40243237) Homepage

      From reading the article, it sounds more like a routine stop where they ask you dozens of rather pointless questions just to keep you talking. The goal is to see if you have your story straight. They will ask the questions in such a way as to trip you up if you're not telling the truth.

      Chances are they asked about what the guy does for a living and he brought up Cryptocat himself. It was an unusual security-related thing so the officer focused on that for questioning to see if he would say something suspicious.

    • Re:DHS CS Expert. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Rostin (691447) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @09:10AM (#40243259)
      The purpose of the interrogation wasn't to obtain information. It was intimidation. The DHS is delighted that it's receiving so much attention, too. It puts foreigners on notice that if they create software, protocols, or whatever which the US government finds inconvenient, they risk retaliatory harassment at the border should they choose to visit.

      So, while I agree that a lot of what the DHS (and many other three-letter government agencies) does is a waste of money, I think it's also much worse than that.
      • by Lazy Jones (8403)

        t the DHS (and many other three-letter government agencies) does is a waste of money, I think it's also much worse than that.

        Security is serious business (and money) and the DHS, TSA do a great job inciting anti-americanism and thus keeping the money flowing to the right corporations. The USA got rich by being a free country, now they (well, some) get even richer by doing the opposite. Isn't capitalism great?

    • Sorry sir, but your application has been denied. If we followed your suggestions we would not need to horas, torture, or bother anyone. Then everyone would forget what DHS stands, we would loose funding and become an irrelevant agency like BATF.

      Again thank you for your time, please see BOB on the way our for your complementary cavity search.

    • Honestly, it sounds more like a routine stop where the guard was just curious. The questions about types of algorithms and censorship resistance are the sorts of questions I'd expect from someone who (personally) hadn't heard of it but thought it sounded pretty cool. Imagine if you were a nerd and somebody told you they worked on a crypto system you'd never heard of - what questions would you ask? I know I would ask similar questions, not for anything nefarious but just because being a border guard must be

    • Are...are you a wizard? :B
  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @09:09AM (#40243245)

    Did they question him, because he was a crypto developer? Or did they stop him for some other reason, and ask about his profession?

    FTFA:

    A developer of an encrypted chat program is making some dramatic claims. Nadim Kobeissi, developer of Cryptocat which “lets you instantly set up secure conversations.

    There is your answer right there.

    • Secondary screening is like jury duty. There are "spaces" to fill and periodically you get called. If you fit a particular profile, your chances of getting called increase.
    • by zero.kalvin (1231372) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @09:33AM (#40243481)

      There is your answer right there.

      Actually he is not only arabic, his background ( for which I could be mistaken ) is shiite muslim ( but he may not be religious ). In lebanon, the largest shiite parties are anti-american like Hizbollah and Amal.

      • by bmo (77928)

        Actually he is not only arabic, his background ( for which I could be mistaken ) is shiite muslim ( but he may not be religious ). In lebanon, the largest shiite parties are anti-american like Hizbollah and Amal.

        Yay! Guilt by vague association!

        Pretty soon we can execute people on innuendo too!

        --
        BMO

        • by zero.kalvin (1231372) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @09:59AM (#40243737)
          While we should give them the benefit of the doubt because it might very well be a pure coincidence. However when I think about my own experience, I can't help and refute that. I have been "randomly" chosen so many times, that now I think they have a very biased random screening process. I almost get picked for extra screening almost every time I travel ( and I do travel frequently ). My background could be a factor, I come from the same country as our crypto friend, but from the north and if you were following the news lately there have been a lot of it in the city of Tripoly ( the city where I grew up in ). And we have some extremist that you can comfortably link them to Al-Qaeda.
          • by bmo (77928)

            So you're fine with being singled out because of people who are not you and don't hold the same values of you but you get lumped in with them anyway?

            --
            BMO

            • I never said I am fine with it. But I don't understand the problem. Do you want my post to be full or ranting and caps lock to emphasis my complete and utter anger of this ? In these situations you should keep calm, no reason for you to be agitated as they will use this against you. However that doesn't mean you should be polite. In one incident, I told the interrogator to go hang himself upside down by the testicles after he asked a very stupid question ( the funny part his partner laughed his ass off ) bu
              • by bmo (77928)

                Do you want my post to be full or ranting and caps lock to emphasis my complete and utter anger of this ?

                No, but your previous post started out with "giving them the benefit of the doubt" which I think at this point is completely unjustified and seemed to really take the edge off of whether you found the singling out offensive or not. IMO, natch.

                Which is why I asked.

                politeness

                Clearly this depends on the situation.

                telling one to go do something painful

                That's the spirit, heh.

                On another note, I have dealt wit

    • by djsmiley (752149)

      Because there isn't export bans on certain types of encryption from the US, right?

  • by ShaunC (203807)

    Is there any source for this aside from random Twitter posts? I generally trust ZeroPaid, but come on - this entire story is built on the basis of a few Tweets.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I was wondering why the border folks were interested in the cat-copter :)

  • ... and the interrogator still doesn't know that one can just download the source of an open source application and examine it. Without having to subject the developer to the third degree*?

    * Well, OK. Sometimes that's what it takes to get O/S developers to comment their code.

    • Depending upon how large the application is, it is generally faster to just ask a developer what sort of algorithms are in it as opposed to sitting down and reading through the source yourself. Same applies to pretty much any large code base when you want basic factual knowledge of it as opposed to implementation details.
  • I suspect their interest in him did not originate from Cryptocat, but instead from his support for WikiLeaks (including at one time having a WikiLeaks mirror).
  • Is this not an opportunity to compromise his devices? If they were mine, I'd probably bin them on the spot.

    Could be a defensive cyberwarfare tactic, they're not so much interested in him but whom he may find himself talking to.

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