In response to the tragic terror attacks in France, intelligence agencies have launched another campaign against strong encryption, such as the type that tech companies use to create secure end-to-end communication services. Intelligence agencies are attempting to blame the encryption as an enabler for extremists to plan and follow through with terror attacks. After recent attempts to stifle encryption failed, it seems like this is an opportune time to rebuild their attacks on encryption due to this tragedy.
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In a strategy found in a leaked email sent by the intelligence community’s top lawyer, Robert S. Litt, Mr.Litt anticipated that a “very hostile legislative environment. . .could turn in the event of a terrorist attack or criminal event where strong encryption can be shown to have hindered law enforcement.” Speaking to CBS news in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, former CIA deputy director Michael Morell stated, “I think this is going to open an entire new debate about security versus privacy.” In fact, Mr.Morell’s statement is likely correct. Stagnation in political lobbying is often destroyed in response to tragic events that spark debate and shifts in policy.
Encrypted communications devices allow parties to communicate in a way that prevents either the manufacturer or law enforcement from accessing the content, even with search warrants. Devices like these are extremely common and anyone that has a smart phone has the ability to encrypt and protect private data on their devices that cannot be accessed by the manufacturer. For example, popular encrypted messaging technology such as Telegram was found on suspects’ devices. The simple fact remains that authorities are seeking to outlaw technology that is used by a vast number of people in a way that is completely harmless and supports individual privacy. The problem with banning this kind of technology is that it would be taken from the people that use it harmlessly while still being widely available to those that would use it for illicit purposes.
Most encrypted messaging software is completely open source, and with a little bit of coding knowledge, can easily be implemented on a mobile device. Banning encrypted messages would only take privacy rights of law abiding citizens away without reducing the potential for criminals to use the technology. Intelligence agencies are essentially saying that terrorists are able to commit mass acts of terrorism due to the fact that the public doesn’t like mass government surveillance. By looking in the past, all terrorism attacks at and before 2001 required no encrypted messaging to take place, this is proof that encryption is not the enabler for such attacks.
Blaming encryption for the attacks and attempting to outlaw technology that is used by a majority of people without harm is a dangerous policy. Banning encryption would be completely useless due to the fact that terrorists can and will switch methods of communication at a moment’s notice or build their own channels. Banning encryption would result in loss of privacy for law-abiding citizens without any effect on the war against terrorism.
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