The Lesson of Liberty Safe: Don’t Just Lock Your Back Doors, Brick Them Over

Photo by Daniel Leininger. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
Photo by Daniel Leininger. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Most Americans likely harbor little sympathy for Nathan Hughes.  He was arrested in Arkansas on August 30 on felony and misdemeanor charges relating to the January 6, 2021 riot at the US Capitol.

Whether Hughes is guilty or not I can’t say, but it’s clear that he made a big mistake when it came to securing his firearms. That mistake was trusting the company which built his gun safe — Liberty Safe — to keep his access codes private. Liberty Safe turned over a code allowing law enforcement to unlock the safe and take the weapons.

There’s some disagreement over whether the code was specific to Hughes or whether there’s a “master code” that unlocks all Liberty Safe products. If we’re to believe Liberty Safe, it’s the former, and they’re acting to let customers “expunge” their codes from the company’s servers.

There are also, of course, calls to boycott Liberty Safe for complying with the FBI’s warrant instead of fighting it, but let’s be honest: It’s hard to fight the feds and hard to blame a company for complying rather than going to war.

The solution to this problem isn’t boycotting Liberty Safe specifically. It’s to avoid putting yourself in any situation where someone else has a “back door” into your stuff.

There’s a saying in the cryptocurrency community: “Not your keys, not your crypto.” It refers to the difference between “custodial” wallets run by centralized exchanges and “non-custodial” wallets to which the wallet owner, and ONLY the wallet owner, has the private keys. Cryptocurrency kept in those “custodial” wallets can be seized any time the government goes to the exchange with a court order. But unless the owner gives up his private key, crypto in a “non-custodial” wallet is secure.

With the advent of the “Internet of Things,” there’s a temptation to let second or third parties control access to one’s things. If you forget a password or whatever, they can help you get back in. The problem with that is they can also help someone else get in, unintentionally (a hacker, for example) or intentionally (usually a government).

Governments hate your privacy. They want to be able to know what you’re doing, or take your stuff, at will and without inconvenient safeguards.

That’s why we see so many government efforts to mandate “back doors” in encryption or even outlaw some forms (non-custodial crypto wallets, end-to-end encrypted email and text messaging, etc.) altogether. And don’t even get me started on “Know Your Customer” laws and the requirement that banks report “suspicious” transactions rather than awaiting a demand accompanied by a warrant before they hand over their customers’ data and cash.

It’s not criminal to value one’s privacy and want to keep one’s belongings secure from theft by criminals or governments (but I repeat myself).

Take a look around your house, with special attention to your computer and phone. Is your crypto secure? How about your email? Find ways to stop trusting your money and information to other parties’ honesty, competence, courage, and good will.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.