No Gun Registry Will Ever Be Beyond Government Overreach

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

Americans aren’t fond of gun registries. Even the most ardent gun control fan knows that, which is why most of them don’t want to mention them in the least.

See, the reason so many people object to registries is that there’s absolutely no way a database full of gun owners won’t be abused in some way, shape, or form. There’s zero chance that it’ll just sit there, undisturbed, waiting for absolutely no one to ever use it for anything.

Yet some people really do think they’ve figured out a way to prevent that overreach.

Proposals to create a national gun registry have long been met with fierce opposition from gun rights advocates. While proponents say a registry would help in tracking guns used in crimes, opponents worry that it would compromise privacy and could be used by the federal government to confiscate firearms. Now, a team of Brown University computer scientists has devised a way of implementing a registry that may allay some of those concerns.

They propose a database that uses advanced encryption to protect privacy. The encryption scheme allows the database to be searched without being decrypted, which means people querying the database see only the records they’re looking for and nothing else. Meanwhile, the system places control of data in the hands of county-level officials rather than the federal government, meaning county officials have control over which queries are answered, and can even pull the county’s data offline entirely if they’re not comfortable with how it’s being used.

The proposed system is the work of Seny Kamara, a professor of computer science at Brown, along with co-authors Tarik Moataz, Andrew Park and Lucy Qin. Moataz is a visiting scientist at Brown. Park is a Brown master’s student, and Qin is a Ph.D. student in Kamara’s lab. They developed the system after Ron Wyden, a U.S. Senator from Oregon, contacted them looking for ideas on how such a database might be constructed.

“The senator’s office had this idea for a database where counties are incentivized to participate, but they could pull out at any time,” Kamara said. “At the same time, there are obvious privacy concerns. This idea of being able to query and process data without decrypting it is something I have worked on for the last 20 years, so that’s why the senator reached out to us. This research was about showing whether it was possible to design something like this.”

Here’s the problem.

First, when you query any database, it doesn’t just pull up the right data, it pulls up all data that meet those search criteria. Imagine, if you will, they decide they want to look at people who own 9 mm handguns within a mile of a shooting location. Your name pops up because you have a Glock 19.

Now, the police know you have this particular firearm despite you having done nothing at all wrong.

But hey, that’s a small thing. It’s annoying as hell, but it’s wrong.

What Kamara can’t do is convince anyone that no matter what he says about privacy concerns, that there’s no way this information can’t be exploited for other means. After all, why have a database that can’t be used? Sooner or later, someone will decide they want every name in that database, which means with the right queries, they can get them.

I promise you, there’s absolutely no way the federal government isn’t going to want the decryption key. Or, at the very least, not want a way to get that key.

At that point, all bets are off.

See, these claims of a registry that protects privacy bother me. It really feels like a trap, a way to try and convince us not to fight so damn hard against registration. It feels like they want to lull us to sleep with claims that it can’t be misused, but it’s impossible for them to actually claim that. Even if they destroy the decryption key or something, making it impossible for them to decrypt the data for the government, they’ll just put codebreakers to work on it from day one and just sit on that fact until convenient.

If it seems I’m untrusting of the government, I am. These are the same people who told us that masks weren’t effective against COVID-19 right up until they told everyone they had to wear a mask everywhere they went.

Why should I trust them on anything else?

 

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Nov 26, 2021 10:30 AM ET