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When I run package-list-packages, I'm getting an error:

The TLS connection to elpa.gnu.org:443 is insecure for the following reason:

certificate could not be verified

I found a few other reports of this, but all seemed to be due to some local mis-configuration (like this one). I ruled this out by recompiling the latest version of Emacs from the emacs-26 branch, and launching with emacs -Q (that's Emacs 26.0.91). The problem still persists.

Another clue: this only happens on my desktop running Ubuntu 14.04, not on my laptop running Debian testing. So I suspect it may be due to something important being outdated on the ancient version of Ubuntu I'm saddled with (and cannot update, it's a work computer).

How can I resolve this, or at least find the source of the problem?

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There are several possible ways that Emacs/TLS can be misconfigured but it seems likely this is simply a duplicate of the question you linked, especially given your distribution's GnuTLS version matching the version I am testing with. My answer is likely to be the cause.

  • I'm guessing one or more of the issues in your linked answer were responsible; whatever it was, the problem is now resolved without my having changed anything in my local configuration. – Tyler May 28 '18 at 12:57
  • The certificate was fixed, so that should have got it I’d think. – Sam Brightman May 28 '18 at 13:11

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