Michael Morell, former deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency, claimed that terrorists have been using encrypted apps to communicate with each other, making it a challenge for law enforcement to track and monitor them.
While there has been no evidence, yet, to support the use of these apps by the terrorists in Paris, officials insist they are still being used by militant extremists. The type of encryption being questioned is called end-to-end encryption, which means data gets encrypted on one device and can’t be decrypted until it reaches the recipient’s device. This type of encryption is used in apps like Apple iMessage, WhatsApp and FaceTime, among others.
Public safety officials and politicians are pushing big tech companies to engineer “backdoor” keys into their products to let law enforcement unlock encrypted messages, with the use of a warrant.
“From the law enforcement perspective, we describe this experience of going dark, that we no longer can penetrate the darkness to conduct our investigations,” said New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton in an interview with NPR. “It’s a very significant negative effect on our ability to detect and disrupt terrorist-related activity.”
In a recent article by TIME, Kevin Bankston, the director of the Open Technology Institute at New America, stated that regardless of whether or not the terrorists in Paris used encrypted devices to communicate their plans, “the simple fact is that trying to ban or backdoor strong encryption just won’t work.”
Technology companies and privacy advocates share two fundamental concerns about eliminating encryption or mandating the “back door” approach.
- Banning the use of encryption isn’t a solution that will stop terrorists or other groups from designing their own encryption algorithms.
- If “backdoors” are made available to law enforcement and intelligence agencies, they may also be accessed by criminals, stalkers and terrorists.
Apple CEO, Tim Cook, told NPR’s Robert Siegel, “The reality is that if you have an open door in your software for the good guys, the bad guys get in there, too.”
While some large tech companies made concerted efforts to strengthen their encryption applications after the Edward Snowden incident, many believe that access to encrypted data wouldn’t even change the current impact of surveillance efforts.
“If we learned anything from the Snowden revelations, it’s that the NSA and intelligence agencies around the world, including France, are not suffering from the lack of information, rather they’re suffering from the exact opposite. They have so much data that they’re collecting, they have trouble filtering the signal from the noise,” said Nate Cardozo in an NPR article. Cardoza is a lawyer on the civil liberties team at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
As the debate continues we hope that intelligence officials and tech companies will be able to find a resolution that will provide both safety and privacy for citizens around the world. In the meantime, we’d like to hear your thoughts on the issue.
Do you lean toward one side or the other?