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:

  1. 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.
  2. Hysterical politicians blame encryption for the attacks, insisting that tech companies and basic math are clearly to blame.
  3. The Manhattan DA and others call for end-to-end encryption to be banned (while amusingly insisting they’re not calling for a ban).
  4. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

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Comments on “The Paris Attacks And The Encryption/Surveillance Bogeyman: The Story So Far”

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52 Comments
limbodog (profile) says:

Ah, this takes me back.

Remember when George W. Bush declared the economy to be so good that the rich needed tax cuts, only to have great recession hit shortly thereafter causing him to say that the economy is so bad that the rich needed tax cuts?

Yeah. It’s clear that their agenda has absolutely nothing to do with whatever it is they’re talking about. They just want to ensure money gets funneled to the ‘appropriate’ beneficiaries.

AJ says:

Re: Ah, this takes me back.

“Yeah. It’s clear that their agenda has absolutely nothing to do with whatever it is they’re talking about.”

That goes for any politician, in any situation.

Get to keep your health care… just kidding?
Close Guantanamo.. or not!!
Immigration reform….. or mass influx of voters/terrorists?

Their all corrupt. The Republicans are known for tax breaks for the rich, and the Democrats are known for providing cheap immigrant labor for the rich. Both parties have Pro’s for the rich, and both have Con’s… but to say one side is better or worse than the other is just naive. They don’t stay rich by being stupid, they hedge all bets equally.

Anonymous Coward says:

Every time you see these wild moral panic claims about how anyone who is opposed to ratcheting up the military/intelligence/surveillance/big brother budget and laws, when you dig down into the warnings and hand-wringing and blame, there’s never anything there besides speculation and wild fantasy.

It’s like the “thanks Obama!” meme. I stubbed my toe. Thanks Obama! Bad people do bad things somewhere in the world. Thanks Snowden! Someone shoots up a school Thanks gun control!

It’s all just random bogey man association. I’m tempted to write a blame generator that matches up events with people/things to blame just to get all the bullshit claims out of the way.

Anon says:

the Big Brother effect

The problem is the “Big Brother Effect”. (TM)

In both 1984 (the novel) and the real-life implementation in East Germany with the Stasi – the secret police were one of the biggest organizations in the country. And in both cases, there was still nefarious underground dealings going on for a long time.

The problem is, computers still can’t competently monitor and track. So the manpower required to “follow” someone of interest simply exceeds what the typical intelligence group can do. If you do become a person of interest (usually after the fact) they can find out a lot about you; but finding the triggers beforehand is still close to impossible.

After all, automation is more likely to generate false positives, which means wasted manpower chasing them down. And, as the TSA has amply demonstrated, adding manpower does not mean you get competent, dedicated agents; which makes the result less than useless.

Then there’s the issue of consolidating diverse data… but we knew that was a problem back in the late 60’s with “The Anderson Tapes”.

Glenn says:

Want to stop terrorism? Stop creating terrorists in the first place. #1 cause: repressive societies. #1 symptom of repressive societies: mass surveillance. Short of finding and executing all terrorists (and murderers and violent people in general)–something I fully support BTW, just stop treating everyone else like they’re your property and you can do anything you want to with them just because they’re “different” (which goes for everyone, not just governments).

AJ says:

Re: Re:

Interesting. I agree with your cause, but I don’t think your solution is possible anytime in the near future.

Humans are horrible, evil, emotional, wonderful, loving, slightly crazy beings… we’ve evolved physically and mentally, but emotionally we’ve changed very little. We may evolve in a few more thousand years, if we survive that long, into that loving, sharing, caring, hand holding society. But as long as their are finite resources, were going to lie, cheat, over-eat.. and knock each other flat!! Bet you never saw another animal.. act like that?

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Actually, nearly ALL animals act like that. Idiots like PETA grew up watching Disney nature “documentaries” that bear little to no resemblance to real life. Animals in the wild don’t live in a peaceful balance – it’s dog eat dog… usually quite literal in fact. The first thing most animals do when things get rough is eat their own young. Times don’t even need to be all that rough – there’s nothing a male bear likes better after a long winter than to snack on baby bears. The more naturalists study to real world, the more they see that human behavior isn’t all that different after all.

AJ says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I was actually mocking they very same Disney you referenced with a Jungle Book quote lol. “lie, cheat, over-eat.. and knock each other flat!! Bet you never saw another animal.. act like that?” is a quote from a song in the story on the original record….Or did you know that and I totally missed your sarcasm?

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Actually, no, I missed yours. Sorry, but it’s been soooooo long since I’ve seen the Jungle Book that I totally missed that. I need to go back through all the Disney movies. I’ve got virtually everything the made as I loved Disney, especially the animated classics. I grew up watching those Disney nature shows, so seeing real nature documentaries later was a real eye-opener. I love a good nature documentary, even if they aren’t as “feel good” anymore.

Median Wilfred says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Only sort of a point, you’ve got there.

Do male bears understand that cubs supress heat in female bears, and in order to sex up the female bears, they kill the cubs? That would imply some kind of intelligence and long term memory in the mail bears and lack of memory in female bears. That is, the femail bears would have to not be able to remember that a male bear killed her cubs when sexin’ time roles around.

I think, instead, that male bears who killed and ate cubs were (a) nourished by tender cub meat, and (b) able to survive long enough to inseminate the now-cubless female bears. After a while, the propensity to kill cubs spreads around the population. No intelligence or design needed, so let’s not postulate intelligence or design, and let’s not talk as if such exists.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Either way, whether for food or sex, it seems like a weird behavior to have evolved successfully. Doesn’t really help one’s genes propagate or maintain the population unless the male only kill cubs that aren’t his own. Even then, it couldn’t happen too frequently, or there wouldn’t be enough youngsters to replace the elderly. I’ve heard of insects that do this, but they tend to compensate by breeding like flies 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:

prevention vs prosecution

US intelligence agencies are free to spy on Europeans all they want, right? That’s not even controversial, is it?

Do you think the giant cache of records the NSA has collected might be useful after the attack? As terrorist identities are learned, presumably the NSA is tracking down where these people traveled, who they spoke to, etc… Even though massive surveillance might be useless for prevention, it could be very valuable after-the-fact.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: prevention vs prosecution

As terrorist identities are learned, presumably the NSA is tracking down where these people traveled, who they spoke to, etc…

And then they put all those people on a watch-list with so many people already on it that they can’t spare the manpower to keep track of any of ’em.

Anonymous Coward says:

The Paris Attacks And The [insert political target here] Bogeyman:

• Surveillance
• Immigration
• Refugees
• Snowden
• Religion
• Political Opponents
• Anyone who doesn’t want war
• ‘Pacifists’
etc…

Pick one or create your own bogeyman… instant profit awaits you and your cause!
100% Guaranteed To Make You Look Stronger And Reduce Dandruff

Anonymous Coward says:

Terrorism is not the problem.

Terrorism is merely a symptom of the problem.

Treating symptoms is not necessarily bad: it makes the patient feel better. But it should not be mistaken for a cure.

The problem in this case is that western governments have meddled in a situation that has historically been volatile — and they’ve made it worse. Much worse.

And none of them will address this, because doing so would require admitting that their own responsibility.

Meanwhile, US politicians and demagogues are doing the terrorists’ work for them by demonizing (variously) refugees, encryption, privacy, Muslims, the Constitution, Syrians, security, etc. They are thus pouring gasoline on a fire that’s already raging.

I hate to write this, but I think things will get worse — MUCH worse — before they get any better. I desperately hope I’m wrong.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Terrorism is not the problem.

I hate to write this, but I think things will get worse — MUCH worse — before they get any better. I desperately hope I’m wrong.

I already accept that we’re heading back into Dark Ages 2.0/dystopian future. With nitwits like these in control, could it be any different? They don’t even appear to be trying. They’re more fixated on growing their budget and keeping up appearances, not fixing what’s broken.

I’m just glad I won’t live to see it hit bottom. The rest of you have my sympathies.

Unnamed Government Official says:

Re: Re:

Snowden didn’t release anything. The Guardian, Washington Post, NY Times, Der Speigel, and the Intercept among others did the vetting and releasing.

What a lot of people don’t know is that Snowden secretly owns and runs all those. So he’s getting rich off of selling America out while he’s over there in Russia partying his ass off with Putin. But we’ll get him someday, you just wait and see!

Whatever (profile) says:

All this, yet you have to remember that in the week following this tragedy, the police in France and other countries have been able to use the collected data and information to quickly put together a list of known associates and locations, and to swoop in and pick a whole bunch of them up.

In some of those cases, the people were well armed and already working on their next attack.

You guys go on and on here about “innocent until proven guilty”, yet you mock police and law enforcement for not picking up potential terrorists before something happens. Remember, some of these guys (and girls) were born and raised in France, Belgium, and other EU countries. Do you wish to deny them their rights “because terrorism”?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Missing the point as usual while logged in, are we?

Mocking the police happens largely because of the sheer scale of surveillance demanded. Yet, whether the police are actually better at picking up potential terrorists very much remains to be seen. Everyone knows you’re a sucker for police apologetics, but in the real world, you generally don’t get praised if you demand favors and perks to do something, and end up doing that something horribly.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

The GOP Platform

On domestic mass shootings:
“It’s too soon to politicize this. This isn’t the right time to have knee-jerk reactions. We should be praying for the victims and their families.”

On terrorist attacks:
“The time to act is now. Snowden this, surveillance that, lock-down, yada yada, fear, loud noises, Patriot Act, tough talk.”

…although, to be fair, plenty of dems are caught up in that second one. But the GOP cognitive dissonance is strong between the above two events.

Anonymous Coward says:

not only will encryption not make any difference to terrorist attacks being prevented, the ‘powers that be’ know that already and are not expecting things to change if an increase in surveillance comes into force. the main reason those same powers want to ban encryption is so they can have a second by second account of what every ordinary person does, says, writes, visits, talks to etc! to them we are more of a threat than any terrorist group because the people find out things with the powers, the wealthy, the famous etc are always under the spot light. why else was the ‘right to be forgotten’ ridiculous law brought in? to protect as many of those making pricks of themselves and the people finding out, then spreading it! add on that governments want to stop the people finding out when they have been up to ‘no good’ and are doing bad things without telling anyone (cue TTIP,TTP, etc etc!)!

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Basic

… cryptography is fairly advanced math isn’t it?

The gory details of how it’s implemented can get pretty complex (this algorithm, then this algorithm on top of that, yada, yada), but I think I learned all I needed to know about prime numbers in about grade three. The concept works no matter how big the numbers are. Happily, we’ve got these computer thingamahooeys that make that bit easy.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Terrorism”, the excuse used to TAKE more authority, and RIP what little rights we have

Their are ALREADY laws TODAY to deal with those that take life, its called CRIMINAL law, criminal law that is us much for bad folks as it is for bad governments, were you have to DEFINE why this person is criminal as the law is written, and give PROOF before sentence

Terrorism is the excuse to tyrn a fake representative government, into a dictatorship

Its sickening that they are most certainly gonna get away with it, to many deluded or just plain stupid people backing them

“Terrorists”/government two sides to the same damn coin, both think force and violence the answer, no way are you gonna get peace if its forced……….bloodthirsty scoundrels, freaking war mongerers, the empires are still here, and have even more practice manipulating the public

GEMont (profile) says:

How easily the veneer of civilization falls away.

Actually this is my favorite headline of the week – from today’s TruthDig newsletter:

French Authorities Identify Body of Suspected Ringleader of Paris Attacks

Suspected Ringleader”

We don’t need no stinking due process or proof no more.

And if it turns out somewhere down the road that the French learn that he was not the mastermind and did not even participate in the attacks…. meh!

—-

tqk (profile) says:

Re: How easily the veneer of civilization falls away.

Suspected Ringleader”

And the takeaway is, “We got him. We killed the fscker! We’re sooooo good!”

Well, except for all the innocent victim’s bodies lying around that is. By the way, do you have any proof he was the ringleader, and was he on any of your watch lists, and how’d he manage to pull this off if so? Just curious.

“Give us more money and maybe one of these days we can stop it from happening in the first place.” Wait a second. How much more’s it going to cost, ’cause I think you’re already getting a !#$load of money, and look what we get from it? When do we see actual results, instead of excuses?

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