NYPD Counterterrorism Official Worried About 'Anarchists' Who Are 'Good At Using' Encryption

from the lolwut dept

With demonstrations against police brutality occurring all over the nation, cops dealing with protests are saying dumb things about encryption.

The NYPD invited CBS New York to come behold the power of its citywide surveillance system. The network is suitably impressive.

The NYPD’s Aviation Unit and cameras all over the city are the eyes and ears for officers interacting with protesters on the ground. All five boroughs are monitored 24/7 inside the NYPD’s Joint Operations Task Force.

Deputy Chief Ed Mullane was CBS's host. After detailing the communications network that runs alongside the PD's cameras and aircraft, reporters spoke to the NYPD's Counterterrorism unit to see if it couldn't conjure up some speculation about outsiders engaging in rioting and looting.

Here's what was reported by NBC New York, which apparently didn't get to tour the surveillance center.

Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller said there is a high level of confidence within the NYPD that these unnamed groups had organized scouts, medics, and supply routes of rocks, bottles and accelerants for breakaway groups to commit vandalism and violence.

Here's the kicker, delivered by a counterterrorism official who apparently believes this is somehow worth mentioning even though it's indicative of nothing.

There are strong indicators they planned for violence in advance using at times encrypted communications, he said.

"Using at times encrypted communications." Oh, you mean like anyone who has WhatsApp on their phone? Anyone using iPhone's messaging app? Criminal or non-criminal, encrypted communications are pretty common these days.

Here's a more direct quote, as supplied to CBS:

"One of the challenges we have is that these are loosely put together groups that have become good at using encrypted communication…"

Being "good at" using encrypted communications means little more than being able to use a smartphone. The only plausible reason anyone would bring something like this up in this context is to try to link encryption to criminal activity. There's no other reason to do this, since NYPD officers themselves use iPhones for work. The NYPD obviously enjoys the benefits of encrypted communications and officers are probably pretty "good at it" by this point.

If encryption is a sign of potential lawlessness, we should perhaps be concerned that the NYPD is looking to encrypt many more of its communications in the near future.

After amNewYork reported this week of the NYPD’s plans to encrypt police radios in 2020, police officials said Thursday that it would likely not move forward with encryption for at least a year.

Moreover, police brass indicated that they are “open to discussion” as to who, outside of the Police Department, would have access to encrypted communications.

This would present a "challenge" to everyone who isn't an NYPD officer. Journalists would no longer be able to monitor calls and would have to rely solely on post facto press releases and official statements. More concerning is the fact that other entities the NYPD relies on -- volunteer fire departments and ambulance services -- would not have access either, delaying their response time.

Encryption isn't just a tool abused by -- to use Miller's exact words -- "a number of anarchist groups." It's used by regular people all the time. And the NYPD obviously recognizes the benefits of secure communications or it would not be looking to encrypt radio traffic or supply its officers with iPhones.

The United States is a mess right now and it's going to take a long time to sort things out. What we don't need is public officials opportunistically muddying the encryption waters with vague assertions about anarchists and secure communications.

Filed Under: anarchists, encryption, going dark, nypd, protests


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  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 10 Jun 2020 @ 11:14am

    “Encryption for me, but not for you.” — the NYPD, probably

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2020 @ 11:34am

    Its almost like they are scared about what people are discussing, like maybe trying to curb police violence and law breaking.

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

  • icon
    ysth (profile), 10 Jun 2020 @ 11:39am

    news flash

    Non-violent protests are routinely organized with some thought to op sec, e.g. using Signal for communications.

    This is not news, and not a problem.

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 10 Jun 2020 @ 11:45am

    McCarthy would be proud.

    I wonder what STD is eating the brain cells of some people.
    Who is instigating the idea that a Anachronistic group is doing ANYTHING.

    Strange idea, insted of working from inside small groups, control the top and control everything people are seeing, doing..
    Knew it was bad, but the logic in this country is getting Worse.

    May your rubber Duck always have a working squeaker.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2020 @ 12:12pm

      Re: McCarthy would be proud.

      A lot of the current protests are not centrally organised, and authoritarians have always had difficulty with the idea that people may cooperate without central organization. In that sense the protests are anarchistic.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2020 @ 12:38pm

        Re: Re: McCarthy would be proud.

        Yeah - authoritarians have difficulty understanding the concept of a movement existing independent of a leader setting an agenda or that organizing under a leader is a means to an end. See the insistence of secret funders of protests instead of being upset for obvious reasons.

        Look back as far as the French revolution where monarchists insisted some sinister illuminati or Jewish council was behind the revolution and not just that the lower classes were starving, desperate, and mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.

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

      • icon
        ECA (profile), 10 Jun 2020 @ 3:39pm

        Re: Re: McCarthy would be proud.

        I love reality..
        IF you think only 1 group, 1 color, 1 this or that is going to be OUT and about, thats like thinking everyone Thinks like you..
        Excuse the ignorant that have never worked in anything retail.. REALLY!.
        Those who have, and even the stories from twitter/reddit..are So very humorous..
        The reality is that Everyone, every type, ever 'thing' is going to be out there...including those that instigate, rob, steal, take every advantage. Including our own state and fed..

        https://www.npr.org/2020/06/10/873564620/policing-is-an-avatar-of-american-racism-marshall-pro ject-journalist-says

        Good article..
        There was a Police officer that wrote about the 1970's riots and HOW they could of made things better...Like not walking out in FULL gear.. Walk out and TALK to the people. The police actions Force it, not quell it.

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 10 Jun 2020 @ 11:50am

    And conitnuing strange.

    For a nation that makes laws After the fact, its as if someone is inserting the facts.

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

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 11 Jun 2020 @ 1:12am

      Re: And conitnuing strange.

      Naturally. In authoritarian regimes the vested interests always begin by producing the intended result, then scramble for arguments which produce that result.

      Finding few or none, they proceed to make shit up or derail the debate.

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

      • icon
        ECA (profile), 12 Jun 2020 @ 12:55pm

        Re: Re: And conitnuing strange.

        Iv watched that, as well as groups foisting (fake)Letters and data on those they need to persuade..
        Might as well be a TV evangelist..

        Our corps have learned the tricks of the trade very well..and they didnt start this crap.

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

  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 10 Jun 2020 @ 12:08pm

    Should we or shouldn't we, please answer the question

    "This would present a "challenge" to everyone who isn't an NYPD officer. Journalists would no longer be able to monitor calls and would have to rely solely on post facto press releases and official statements. More concerning is the fact that other entities the NYPD relies on -- volunteer fire departments and ambulance services -- would not have access either, delaying their response time.This would present a "challenge" to everyone who isn't an NYPD officer. Journalists would no longer be able to monitor calls and would have to rely solely on post facto press releases and official statements. More concerning is the fact that other entities the NYPD relies on -- volunteer fire departments and ambulance services -- would not have access either, delaying their response time."

    Well, if Barr gets his way and forces backdoors in encryption, then in a short time everyone will have access again. Perhaps waiting to find out how Barr's flight of fancy goes is the reason they are waiting a year or so to encrypt their communications.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2020 @ 12:55pm

    Being "good at" using encrypted communications means little more than being able to use a smartphone. The only plausible reason anyone would bring something like this up in this context is to try to link encryption to criminal activity.

    But what this sounds like is that the NYPD is doing NSA-style surveillance on all communications 247 (or really bad and broad warrants), but they are upset that they run into some which are encrypted. This is the only possible way they can be in a position to have a complaint about encrypted communications.*

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

  • identicon
    bobob, 10 Jun 2020 @ 1:09pm

    Gee, I'm sorry they are worried about anarchists and encryption, but I'm not so worried that I would hesitate to say to the nypd, get over it or fuck 'em, eat shit and die.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2020 @ 1:10pm

    so is my bank

    My bank does a decent job of using encrypted communications too.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2020 @ 1:30pm

    "a number of anarchist groups."

    Most of the peaceful protestors are not anarchist at all, they want the law to work as advertised.

    There are many words written on many pieces of paper, we like to call them laws. It is a shame these laws are not enforced equally but I never thought pointing this out was anarchist - weird.

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

  • icon
    Upstream (profile), 10 Jun 2020 @ 1:49pm

    Isn't the NYPD the poster child for Orwellian, militaristic, over-the-top overreach for a municipal police department? Stop and frisk = One of the definitions of a police state. Joint Operations Task Force = Pseudo-military whatever. Overseas agents = CIA Lite. Surveillance of five boroughs = Five Eyes Junior. Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence and Counterterrorism = Pretend Cabinet position (or maybe pretend MI6 position). The NYPD seems to be a bit full of itself, or at least full of something.

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

  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 10 Jun 2020 @ 2:03pm

    "good at using encryption"
    ? Um...I can't think of a way that would be "bad at using encryption" other than writing the password on the device.

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

    • identicon
      Baron von Robber, 10 Jun 2020 @ 2:04pm

      Re:

      That is to say, if the encryption is working, you can't be bad at it.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2020 @ 2:50pm

        Re: Re:

        Pretty much true if you're a user, allowing for variations like "sending the encryption password as an SMS", etc.

        But the options multiply if you're a software developer. There are oh so many ways to develop crappy encryption that looks like it works (if you don't look too hard). Voting machine developers, for instance....

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 11 Jun 2020 @ 12:10am

      Re:

      I'd assume that would be something like using a weak encryption method that's known to be insecure, but since most people are using the encryption provided by an app rather than making the decision themselves you would have to go out of your way to be bad at it.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2020 @ 2:49pm

    What they mean is: they are worried about anyone communicating in any way that they don't hear and comprehend. So any Asians should be careful to either not speak or only speak English (I'm picking on Asians because Asian languages sound very different from most western languages, that people of Mr Millers apparent education & mental level would not be able to differentiate from "speaking in encryption").

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2020 @ 2:53pm

    Encryption isn't just a tool abused by -- to use Miller's exact words -- "a number of anarchist groups." It's used by regular people all the time. And the NYPD obviously recognizes the benefits of secure communications or it would not be looking to encrypt radio traffic or supply its officers with iPhones.

    Sorry Tim, but you haven't show this to be true. The NYPD could believe encryption is only used/abused by anarchist groups if they believe themselves to be an anarchist group (And I have not actually seen compelling evidence to the contrary).

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

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 10 Jun 2020 @ 5:30pm

      Re:

      I think you should re-read this comment as it sets up the probability that the NYPD is doing illegal surveillance. That members of, or the entire NYPD is an anarchist group depends upon where your sitting. If one is a member of the authoritarian establishment, then no, but if one is outside of that establishment it will be hard to convince them (with good reason) that they are not. So when the NYPD enables their own encryption, they will be in fact possibly abusing encryption for anarchist reasons, that is, if the aren't already.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2020 @ 5:48pm

        Re: Re:

        While that's a good point, I wasn't trying to argue that the NYPD was an anarchist group. I was just (hopefully) humorously suggesting the NYPD might think of themselves as an anarchist group.

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

        • icon
          Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 10 Jun 2020 @ 6:00pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Sorry if I confused you, I do think the NYPD is an anarchist group (fighting for the cause of authoritarianism), but that is from my perspective. From the NYC administration's perspective they are saints, and therein lies the problem. Both work for us, but we don't have any say, except at the voting box where the money makes the difference.

          It is telling that the teachers union and police unions are major factors (a.k.a contributors if you pledge to vote their way) in elections. Where do they get that money? Both factions are paid by us, yet an (apparently significant) portion of that pay goes to dues that then become contributions (a.k.a. bribes) to buttress political candidates. Hmm....

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

          • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
            identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2020 @ 9:01pm

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

            • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
              identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2020 @ 9:13pm

              Re: The Fact and History Free Zone is now OPEN (for members)

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

              • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
                identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2020 @ 10:21pm

                Re: Re: The Fact and History Free Zone is now OPEN (for members)

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                  identicon
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                  Re: Re: Re: The Fact and History Free Zone is now OPEN (for memb

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 11 Jun 2020 @ 2:30am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            I do think the NYPD is an anarchist group

            An outlaw authoritarian group yes, but not anarchists, as they want to rule society.

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

  • identicon
    Olestra, 11 Jun 2020 @ 1:14am

    >>There are strong indicators they planned for violence in advance using at times encrypted communications, he said. hmm.. If I recall correctly NYPD has encrypted their radio transmissions...

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

  • icon
    McKay (profile), 11 Jun 2020 @ 9:06am

    Other worries

    Sure worry about people who are good at encryption, but that doesn't mean we should abolish it.

    I'm similarly worried about people who are good at:

    • Making secure safes
    • disguises
    • demolition derbies

    I'm also much more worried about people who are really good at sniper shooting.
    And we pay citizens to learn this one.

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 11 Jun 2020 @ 9:11am

    I just have questions...

    If this system is so amazing how it is the Mayor & Governor never managed to see any police brutality on them?

    How is it that spokespeople were saying that never happened when there was 20 cell phone videos of officers assaulting citizens for contempt of cop?

    While keeping an eye on everyone sounds like a great way to keep people safe... when those charged with protecting the city & end up blowing holes in the budget paying off settlements for outrageous behavior... why do they never manage to record cops doing bad things?

    All animals are created equally... some more equally than others.

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


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