AS GOOGLE’S Android smartphone operating system was coming
under attack in 2012 from malware with the colorful names of “Loozfon”
and “FinFisher,” the US Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Internet
Crime Complaint Center issued an alert to help defend against the
threat. “Depending on the type of phone,” the FBI said, “the operating
system may have encryption available. This can be used to protect the
user’s personal data.”
How times have changed.
Last fall, when Apple and Google announced they were cleaning up their
operating systems to ensure that their users’ information was encrypted
to prevent hacking and potential data loss, FBI Director James Comey
attacked both companies. He claimed the encryption would cause the users
to “place themselves above the law.”
The tech community fired back. “The only actions that have undermined the rule of law,” Ken Gude wrote in Wired, “are the government’s deceptive and secret mass-surveillance programs.”
The battle resumed in February 2015. Michael Steinbach, FBI assistant
director for counterterrorism, said it is “irresponsible” for companies
like Google and Apple to use software that denies the FBI lawful means
to intercept data.
Yet the FBI does have a lawful means to intercept it: the Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Act. Its scope was vastly expanded by the US
Congress in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
It’s worth noting that the FBI never asked Congress to force tech
companies to build “back doors” into their products immediately after
the 9/11 attacks. Only after Google and Apple took steps to patch
existing security vulnerabilities did the bureau suddenly express
concern that terrorists might be exploiting this encryption.
In fact, the bureau has a host of legal authorities and technological
capabilities at its disposal to intercept and read communications, or
even to penetrate facilities or homes to implant audio and video
recording devices. The larger problem confronting the FBI and the entire
US intelligence community is their over-reliance on electronic
technical collection against terrorist targets.
The best way to disrupt any organized criminal element is to get inside
of it physically. But the US government’s counterterrorism policies have
made that next to impossible.
The FBI, for example, targets the very Arab-American and Muslim-American
communities it needs to work with if it hopes to find and neutralize
home-grown violent extremists, including promulgating new rules on
profiling that allow for the potential mapping of Arab- or
Muslim-American communities. The Justice Department’s refusal to
investigate the New York Police Department’s mass surveillance and
questionable informant-recruitment tactics among immigrants in the Arab-
and Muslim-American communities has only made matters worse.
Overseas, the Cold War style of spying -- relying on US embassies as
bases from which Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and other US
government intelligence personnel operate -- is increasingly difficult
in the areas of the Middle East and southwest Asia undergoing often
violent political change.
It boils down to the fact that the FBI and the US intelligence community
have failed to adapt their intelligence-collection practices and
operations to meet the challenges of the “new world disorder” in which
we live. As former CIA Officer Philip Giraldi has noted:
“Intelligence agencies that were created to oppose and penetrate other
nation-state adversaries are not necessarily well equipped to go after
terrorists, particularly when those groups are ethnically cohesive or
recruited through family and tribal vetting, and able to operate in a
low-tech fashion to negate the advantages that advanced technologies
The CIA has repeatedly attempted -- sometimes at high cost -- to
penetrate militant organizations like Al Qaeda and Islamic State.
Nonetheless, Washington’s overall counterterrorism bias in funding and
manpower has been toward using the most sophisticated technology
available as the key means of battling a relatively low-tech enemy.
The FBI’s new anti-encryption campaign is just the latest phase in the
government’s attempt to deny Islamic State and related groups the
ability to shield their communications. If these militant groups were
traditional nation-states with their own dedicated communications
channels, we’d all be cheering on the FBI’s efforts. But the Internet
has become the primary means for global, real-time communications for
individuals, nonprofits, businesses and governments. So it should not be
treated as just another intelligence target, which is certainly the
FBI’s and Natural Security Agency’s current mindset.
Using the legislative process to force companies to make defective
electronic devices with exploitable communications channels in the hope
that they will catch a tiny number of potential or actual terrorists is a
self-defeating strategy. If implemented, the FBI’s proposal would only
make all Americans more vulnerable to malicious actors online and do
nothing to stop the next terrorist attack.
When the FBI sabotages the efforts of consumers and businesses to secure
their data through encryption, the agency is essentially attacking the
security foundations of the online world created over the past 20 years.
Last year, total global online business-to-consumer sales were nearly
$1.5 trillion. That figure is expected to pass $2 trillion in just a few
years’ time. Encryption of those transactions is vital to the long-term
success of the global online marketplace.
The FBI’s attack on the encryption revolution is an assault on the
efforts by US citizens to maintain their Fourth Amendment rights against
unlawful search and seizure. Instead of fighting the modern encryption
revolution, the government should be embracing it.
Patrick G. Eddington worked as a military imagery analyst at the CIA. He
is policy analyst in homeland security and civil liberties at Cato
ROLAND SAN JUAN was a researcher, management consultant, inventor, a part time radio broadcaster and a publishing director. He died last November 25, 2008 after suffering a stroke. His staff will continue his unfinished work to inform the world of the untold truths. Please read Erick San Juan's articles at: ericksanjuan.blogspot.com This blog is dedicated to the late Max Soliven, a FILIPINO PATRIOT.
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