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.

Filed Under: encryption, going dark, intelligence community, paris attacks, surveillance


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  • icon
    limbodog (profile), 19 Nov 2015 @ 12:04pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      AJ, 19 Nov 2015 @ 12:58pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Nov 2015 @ 1:01pm

      Re: Ah, this takes me back.

      Those tax cuts were across the board, you and me benefited from them too. Tax cuts for the "rich" is a lib boogeyman.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 19 Nov 2015 @ 1:26pm

        Re: Re: Ah, this takes me back.

        The across the board benefit of those tax cuts is a con strawman. The lower marginal rate on capital gains most definitely benefits the rich, who have investments, not the poor who do not.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 19 Nov 2015 @ 5:54pm

        Re: Re: Ah, this takes me back.

        It's a good thing you are not a tax preparer.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Nov 2015 @ 12:07pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anon, 19 Nov 2015 @ 12:15pm

    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".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 19 Nov 2015 @ 12:28pm

    I miss the pre-internet days when terrorists communicated through same-day flower deliveries and candygrams. (President's Daily Briefing: Hamas's truffle cream "nougat" selection indicates imminent attack)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Glenn, 19 Nov 2015 @ 12:54pm

    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).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      AJ, 19 Nov 2015 @ 1:08pm

      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?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        JoeCool (profile), 19 Nov 2015 @ 1:54pm

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          AJ, 19 Nov 2015 @ 2:54pm

          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?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            JoeCool (profile), 19 Nov 2015 @ 10:39pm

            Re: Re: Re: 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.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              tqk (profile), 20 Nov 2015 @ 7:56pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              I need to go back through all the Disney movies.

              Or, you could read the actual book it was based on. Hollywood's cartoon version was cute and easy to watch, but have you read the book? I've read lots more, far more entertaining, books in recent years than what Hollywood's producing lately.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2015 @ 4:29am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "...there's nothing a male bear likes better after a long winter than to snack on baby bears."

          Yes there is. Sex. A female bear will not come into heat when they already have cubs. The males kill the cubs so the female will come into heat and he can have sex.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Median Wilfred, 20 Nov 2015 @ 10:26am

            Re: Re: Re: 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.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2015 @ 10:39am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: 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 :)

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Padpaw (profile), 19 Nov 2015 @ 6:00pm

      Re:

      The irony of that, is that it makes you a terrorist to the eyes of most of the "free world" leaders.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Nov 2015 @ 12:55pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Nov 2015 @ 1:08pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 19 Nov 2015 @ 1:17pm

        Re: Re: prevention vs prosecution

        Put them on a watch-list? I was thinking more along the lines of pay these people a visit. You know, do some police detective work.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Nov 2015 @ 12:57pm

    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

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Nov 2015 @ 1:37pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 20 Nov 2015 @ 8:08pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    billy, 19 Nov 2015 @ 1:40pm

    Correction:
    his releases

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

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Unnamed Government Official, 19 Nov 2015 @ 8:45pm

      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!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        tqk (profile), 20 Nov 2015 @ 8:14pm

        Re: Re:

        But we'll get him someday, you just wait and see!

        Based on what I've seen of their recent performance, it doesn't appear they can find their dick (or, you know) if you handed it to them. They're working from another playbook than we think they should be. "Results? What're those? Gimme more money!!!"

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Nov 2015 @ 3:50pm

    well written piece in the new yorker just now by amy davidson:

    http://www.newyorker.com/news/amy-davidson/dont-blame-edward-snowden-for-the-paris-attacks? intcid=mod-latest

    worth a read, in my humble. the question mark in the link must be part of the linkin', abe. the article title has none.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Nov 2015 @ 4:23pm

    Point 5

    France has expanded surveillance twice in the past year, which has apparently accomplished nothing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    Whatever (profile), 19 Nov 2015 @ 4:26pm

    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"?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Nov 2015 @ 4:46pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Nov 2015 @ 5:46pm

      Re:

      yet you mock police and law enforcement for not picking up potential terrorists before something happens.
      Something happened.

      So, they really should say that they need mass surveillance to keep survivors of a first attack safe from a second one, not to keep us safe in the first place.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2015 @ 6:01am

      Re:

      You can flashbang all the babies you want and none of your pathetic suggestions would ever help. Because that was never your objective to begin with.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Derek Kerton (profile), 19 Nov 2015 @ 4:28pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Digitari, 19 Nov 2015 @ 4:47pm

    can you blame them?

    Just stop encrypting your nudie pics....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 19 Nov 2015 @ 5:57pm

    Always easier to let an attack happen and people die to get laws passed that only empower yourself. I mean if they stopped the attack they would have no fodder to get those anti freedom laws passed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2015 @ 5:33am

    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!)!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    nasch (profile), 20 Nov 2015 @ 7:55am

    Basic

    Hysterical politicians blame encryption for the attacks, insisting that tech companies and basic math are clearly to blame.

    I don't think I'd call it basic, cryptography is fairly advanced math isn't it?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 20 Nov 2015 @ 8:28pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2015 @ 9:40am

    "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

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    GEMont (profile), 20 Nov 2015 @ 10:48am

    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!

    ----

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2015 @ 11:05am

      Re: How easily the veneer of civilization falls away.

      What do you want, proof?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 20 Nov 2015 @ 8:55pm

      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?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2015 @ 12:14pm

    Rememeber:

    Barak Lies Matter!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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