The Paris Attacks And The Encryption/Surveillance Bogeyman: The Story So Far
from the let's-review dept
Okay, let’s review. On Friday, a horrific and tragic series of attacks took place in Paris. And then:
- Surveillance state apologists blame Ed Snowden, insisting that he has “blood on his hands” because the terrorists must have learned how to avoid surveillance from his releases.
- Hysterical politicians blame encryption for the attacks, insisting that tech companies and basic math are clearly to blame.
- The Manhattan DA and others call for end-to-end encryption to be banned (while amusingly insisting they’re not calling for a ban).
- Senator John McCain promises to outlaw end-to-end encryption despite the fact that there is still no actual evidence that encryption was the issue at all.
All of this is no surprise, as just a couple of months ago the intelligence community’s top lawyer flat-out admitted that he and his friends planned to wait for the next terrorist attack to push their agenda.
Of course, over the past few days, the following has happened:
- It turns out the attackers used unencrypted SMS to communicate. All the hand-wringing over encryption and “learning from Snowden” appears to have been exaggerated.
- There is no evidence that mass surveillance has ever stopped an attack which seems to raise some important questions about why it’s such a focus.
- It turns out some of the attackers were already known to the intelligence community and law enforcement, and yet they failed to make use of existing powers and authorities to prevent the attacks.
- And, for good measure, there still remains little actual evidence that terrorists have changed anything in how they communicate post-Snowden. That last one is from a study from a year ago, but does seem relevant.
So that seems to be the story so far, despite what you may have seen with hand-wringing and all sorts of freakouts in the press about encryption.
Yes, preventing terrorism is important. And it would be great if the intelligence community were actually able to do that. But it seems pretty clear that mass surveillance techniques aren’t doing much to help at all, though it is diminishing the privacy of everyday citizens. Perhaps before rushing to expand the surveillance state and undermine the encryption that actually does keep us all safe, we should recognize reality, rather than the fantasy-land pronouncements of FBI Director James Comey, CIA Director John Brennan and their friends.