London's Top Cop Says 'Big Tech,' Encryption Are Letting The Terrorists Win

from the applying-excessive-force-to-a-horse's-corpse dept

Dame Cressida Dick -- the former National Policing Lead for Counter-Terrorism -- has had an op-ed published by The Telegraph that leverages the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks to advocate for less privacy and security for routine targets of terrorist attacks: everyday people without powerful government positions.

Writing from her latest official position -- that of Metropolitan Police Commissioner -- Dame Dick says the War on Terror can be won… sort of. (Paywalled but here's an alternate link.)

The future, as ever, is uncertain - as exemplified by the situation in Afghanistan as we wait to see how events there might once again impact on the terrorism landscape. But as I reflect on what has passed since 9/11, I am confident that we continue to develop the exceptional tools and capabilities that will give our counter-terrorism officers the best chance of successfully confronting the threats that will emerge over the next 20 years.

That's just a small part of it. It's headlined by this declaration by the Police Commissioner:

Terrorists seek to divide us -- they won't win

Not so fast, Cressida. Right in the middle of your own op-ed is an admission the terrorists have won, at least using these metrics.

The threat of sophisticated terrorist cells being directed from overseas has been added to by that of the individuals carrying out rudimentary attacks with very little planning or warning. The current focus on encryption by many big tech companies is only serving to make our job to identify and stop these people even harder, if not impossible in some cases.

And there it is: the thing that divides us. Government officials continue to insist that if encryption can be used by terrorists and criminals, then it really shouldn't be accessible to all the non-terrorists who use it to secure their personal information and communications. If the end goal of terrorist attacks is to drive a wedge between the public and their public servants, mission accomplished.

The public would like to have actual security. The government would prefer the illusion of security: a nonexistent form of encryption that only allows good guys to peek in on "secure" communications. And, on the flip side, these officials believe the only people who really "need" encrypted communications are criminals and terrorists since they have the most to hide. If that's the only real market for encryption, then non-terrorists should be happy using insecure communications options because they have nothing to hide and nothing to fear from their governments.

And while we're on the subject of reasoning that's mostly circular, The Telegraph manages to close its own loop by dropping a link in Dame Cressida Dick's op-ed. That link takes you to this article ("Tech giants are making it impossible to stop terrorists, says Dame Cressida Dick"), which opens with this:

Tech giants are making it impossible to identify and stop terrorists carrying out deadly attacks, Dame Cressida Dick warns on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 atrocity.

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner - who was granted a two-year extension on her contract on Friday - said the introduction of end-to-end encryption, which allows users to message one another in complete secrecy, was giving terrorists an advantage over law enforcement.

Companies such as Facebook have argued that introducing encryption will improve privacy for their customers.

But writing in The Telegraph, Dame Cressida warns that terrorists are exploiting such technological advances to radicalise people and direct attacks around the world.

That last link takes you back to Cressida's op-ed, which contains one paragraph about Big Tech and encryption -- a paragraph that is quoted in its entirety further down the page in this separate article. The op-ed links to the article… which links to the op-ed… which links to the article. It's a neat trick, one that makes one hand clapping sound like applause. One could theoretically spend hours opening each self-referential link, allowing Dick's single argument to become a groundswell movement that gradually consumes every last bit of available RAM (mainly looking at you, Chrome).

And that's as good a metaphor as any for the anti-encryption agitation of officials like the Dame. Like other law enforcement officials who would like to see encryption backdoored if not eliminated completely, the Dame's attacks on encryption appear to operate under the theory that if someone says something often enough, and authoritatively enough, then some people are going to believe these assertions are true.

And at the end of all of this, it must be pointed out that the split between law enforcement officials and security experts continues to increase. But the terrorists didn't cause this split. The War on Terror did. The response to the 9/11 attacks was a power grab by the government, which suddenly had the justification it needed to curtail rights and liberties it often found inconvenient. And now it's Big Government complaining about Big Tech, using terrorism as an excuse to undermine security for everyone.

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Filed Under: cressida dick, encryption, london, metropolitan police, terrorism


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Sep 2021 @ 9:46am

    If that's the only real market for encryption, then non-terrorists should be happy using insecure communications options because they have nothing to hide and nothing to fear from their governments.

    Ask the Russian and Chinese citizens amongst other about that, I don't think they will agree. Even US citizens have good reason to keep the government from reading their messages, as the cops like to seize any large amounts of cash being carried from a to b, and bringing cash to buy something expensive is a message you do not want the authorities to read.

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

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 15 Sep 2021 @ 9:49am

    It's idiots like this that are letting terrorists win by succumbing to the terror tactics and attacking the privacy and freedom of people because of terrorists. I'm fairly sure that if proper investigative and intelligence job are done even with gaps posed by encryption most malfeasance can be stopped, there are plenty of examples of it.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Sep 2021 @ 9:57am

    mainly looking at you, Chrome

    Oh no, there go my hopes that those who write for this website prefer Firefox. :(

    (says a person who has to restart Firefox once every several days because it leaks memory too)

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Sep 2021 @ 10:01am

    All that's missing is "Think of the children".

    I did think of the children...

    I recommended they use Signal and Whatsapp.

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

  • identicon
    Anon, 15 Sep 2021 @ 10:29am

    Terrorists?

    Everyone's screaming "Terrorists!" over the Taliban. No, the Taliban are freedom fighters. They don't and haven't gone after anyone outside their country. They were doing what Afghans have been doing since the 1830's - fighting to get the foreigners out of their country.

    In 2001, bin Laden was their BFF. He had led a bunch of foreign helpers in a 10-year war to get the Soviets out. No way they were going to hand him over to a bunch of infidels. Their mistake.

    As for new terrorist groups - there don't appear to be as prominent a bunch this time around that Taliban would be motivated to hide them. ISIS? As you can see from the last airport episode, they are no friend of the Taliban. Like Syria, like Iran, like Iraq, like Turkey - the Taliban will happily fight to eliminate ISIS.

    Meanwhile - Afghanistan is closer to peace than it has been. The Taliban made it hard to travel from place to place with random roadblocks - because they were fighting. That should be gone now. Propaganda to the contrary, they are letting people leave, several flights have already gone.

    Meanwhile - leverage. They have a far mor advanced country than 20 years ago. The people love their cellphones; the Taliban will have to do something to keep the modern tech running - cell, internet, power, water supply, building roads - heck, even food. There's 6 million people in Kabul now, they need to eat. Trucks to move food need mechanics, Water and electricity need maintenance. All that was paid for up until now by a torrent of money from the USA. Now the Taliban will have to go begging to the World Bank and IMF. (If China is not careful, they will pour money into Afghanistan only to find the same trap as everyone else - if they are too controlling, the locals will run them out of town)

    For local terror coming to Britain, I think Pakistan and Iraq are a much bigger concern.

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

    • identicon
      Unanimous Drawcard, 15 Sep 2021 @ 3:14pm

      Re: Terrorists?

      They have a far mor advanced country than 20 years ago

      That's right. It's now 652 AD in Afghanistan. The open promotion of female freedoms, the warm embracing of journalists, and the brotherly hugging of the departing coalition partners that we saw in the past month has been most heartwarming.

      It won't be long now and we'll see the first female President, and University Vice Chancellor in Afghanistan.

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

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 16 Sep 2021 @ 2:57am

      Re: Terrorists?

      "The people love their cellphones; the Taliban will have to do something to keep the modern tech running - cell, internet, power, water supply, building roads - heck, even food."

      No, they actually don't. Failing to keep all those utilities running only means they have to shoot a few more people in the name of their theocracy; what do they care if the nation they are building slides right back into medieval times?

      "There's 6 million people in Kabul now, they need to eat. Trucks to move food need mechanics, Water and electricity need maintenance. All that was paid for up until now by a torrent of money from the USA. Now the Taliban will have to go begging to the World Bank and IMF."

      The Taliban aren't ignorant hill people, or at least their leadership certainly isn't. They know this. Here's the thing though - they don't really need to care. I'm sure the Taliban will gratefully accept foreign aid in the form of food and possibly water or electricity maintenance, but the thing is that for them as long as they themselves pull a best effort their religiously imposed accountability will be covered. Those starving despite that best effort will surely go to paradise for their suffering, after all.

      "For local terror coming to Britain, I think Pakistan and Iraq are a much bigger concern."

      The best tip there is far closer to home. With Brexit the shit-show it's turning out to be the british-EU border is likely to be drawn right back through northern Ireland, and many irish and british are convinced that's likely to spark a revival of the trusty old IRA.

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 16 Sep 2021 @ 5:21am

      Re: Terrorists?

      "Everyone's screaming "Terrorists!" over the Taliban. No, the Taliban are freedom fighters."

      Surely, you didn't write the ream of text following that without understanding that the terms are always applied to the same people, the only difference is whether you're on their side or not...

      "For local terror coming to Britain, I think Pakistan and Iraq are a much bigger concern."

      My major concern is Eton, and they've done more damage than most terrorists could ever do.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Sep 2021 @ 10:51am

    Dick by name, dick by nature! this is the trouble with powerful people who only are interested in knowing what ordinary people are doing, saying, reading, going. while the security services and people like her are concentrating on us ordinary people, us minnows, the big fish they should be finding, pursuing and catching, are all getting away!!

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 15 Sep 2021 @ 12:30pm

    "Terrorists seek to divide us -- they won't win"

    Of course they can't, our elected leaders & their lackeys have managed to divide us to the point where our citizens are attacking other citizens over imaginary issues.

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 15 Sep 2021 @ 12:46pm

    Dear Ms. Dick

    i wonder if you knowledge of tech is very good, even above poor.
    I wonder if you think the only people Able to create encryption, are those that created the device?
    I think I could get a min of 100,000 people world wide that could make your device, wake up and bark, every time you lie. And there are Many ways to get data around, while not even contacting individuals. There are so many ways to encrypt and get information around with/without using high tech. You are even forgetting Low tech, and just scrambling radio signals. unless you have 10,000 people employed scanning and listening to all the SW, MW, LW and discovering who and what they are doing. You are NOT quite paranoid enough. when you get to the point of thinking that the Cellphone transponders and cell sites have a backdoor that can be hacked, and IS hacked, and Cant be found easily. You will be put into a padded room(even if its true).

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 15 Sep 2021 @ 1:22pm

    'Terrorists use privacy, down with privacy for everyone not me!'

    To the extent that the terrorists have won(and I'd say they most certainly have) I'd say it's in large part due to people like her who are attacking the public's safety and security for their own ends, leaving the public less safe and less likely to trust the government and causing the very divide she claims she wants to avoid.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Sep 2021 @ 3:14pm

      Re: 'Terrorists use privacy, down with privacy for everyone not

      Funny considering the draft online safety bill has in it's text the goverment exempting itself from the bill entirely.

      Privacy for me, not for thee.

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

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 15 Sep 2021 @ 4:15pm

        'Only criminals need privacy, now about that privacy we need...'

        They're just trying to give some extra weight to the 'only criminals need or even want privacy' argument they love to break out.

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 15 Sep 2021 @ 1:52pm

    Love it.

    How to Decode all phones?
    Make 1 code to open them all?
    WOW, what a gov. Idea. 1 code that will probably hit the open market in about 7 days.

    How about each phone has its Own code?
    Thats to hard to decode.
    Once things have codes on them, its not always easy to decode, and Open it all up in that phone. The strange thing about codes is SIZE. reduced size is great but means you have more room for Coded data. A Fat code with extra garbage in it to fill the ram, is neat as it Large enough to Fill the ram, and you need more to put more on.
    Either one is great, but you will need a TON more, ram to expand it. Think how much ram 16gigs is. then TRY to insert a Unvalidated ram card into it? you cant add the ram unless you get into the phone to validate it. And if you could, you would need 4-8 times the room. And the phone Cant use that Ram to do this, its not in the programming to Expand the data to the 'extra' ram.
    Thats the fun problem. Unless you can get the Data off the phone, and USE the same APU/CPU/MPU to decode it, it WONT WORK.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Sep 2021 @ 9:34pm

    I wonder which big, globe-spanning industry uses encryption...

    Surely it can't be banking, that old bean?

    I mean, after all, terrorists (CIA-backed AND others) use banks, their big funders also use banks...

    Oh my GOD.

    THE BANKS ARE COMPLICIT.

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

  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 16 Sep 2021 @ 4:41am

    That's OK, just tell the entire financial and industrial private sectors that they need to drop encryption for all transactions. Not a problem if only criminals are using encryption, surely?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Sep 2021 @ 5:13am

    Hey uh you think the government should maybe stop victimizing certain groups/countries to the point they feel terrorism is all they have left?

    No no that would be dangerous to our funding. Let's just go write some opeds about encryption instead.

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


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