On Friday the 13th of November, cowards supporting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) initiated their attack on the free world that they despise resulting in almost hundreds killed and injured. This act of war has lead to numerous countries joining the effort to stop these monsters once and for all. Both the UK and Australia are considering joining the fight, as are Sweden and most of the European Union, if not with troops by providing reinforcements and materials to the forces already in place.
Sadly, following these horrific events the free world has also come under attack from leaders and politicians that claim encryption is the reason why these terrorists were able to plan their attacks without anybody noticing. The Swedish minister of state was ranting about how Skype provided encrypted communication (even though the NSA already got away with those cookies) while the US was crying about how modern cellphones are impossible to crack and how encrypted cellphones prevent law enforcement from doing their job:
“We, in many respects, have gone blind as a result of the commercialization and the selling of these devices that cannot be accessed either by the manufacturer or, more importantly, by us in law enforcement, even equipped with search warrants and judicial authority. This is something that is going to need to be debated very quickly because we cannot continue operating where we are blind.” – Bill Bratton, the New York Police Commissioner.
Belgium on the other hand went straight for the Playstation 4, claiming its encrypted communication was nearly impossible to crack and added that “people think the mosques are the places of recruitment but I think that today, most of the recruitment is done by the Internet.” But while the rants were focused on game consoles, Anonymous and their Operation ISIS has resulted in over 5000 Twitter accounts closed by twitter or deleted by hackers, as well as numerous jihadist websites. And that in less than 24 hours.
Edward Snowden also received a bashing by the ignorant, claiming that his leaks somehow taught the terrorists how to properly use their cellphones. The reality however is that the Snowden leaks has not led to any increase in encryption use among Jihadists, and the attacks in Paris was most likely planned using plain old unencrypted SMS text messages. But as usual, these facts don’t seem to do much for the surveillance fans who now are in overdrive trying to promote their ideas of backdoors like it was 1984.
Don’t get me wrong here, I am all for the fight against terrorism. Religious extremists has been posing a constant threat against the western lifestyle and values for over 15 years now, and anybody that thinks it is okay to kill innocent people over a religious text (or any other reason for that matter) must be stopped by any means possible.
Ask yourself this: Would you remove the lock on your front door if you were asked to, just so the police could search your house if they felt like it? Do you think terrorists would do the same if asked? The answer to both of those questions are most likely a resounding no.
Encryption is essential for protect your privacy, and they are integral in your every-day interactions with the world. You use it when you log on to your bank, when you punch in your credit card number online to buy Christmas presents, and when you read your e-mail. The passwords for your computer and cellphone are encrypted, to make sure only you can view those crazy photos from that party a while ago (you know what pictures I’m talking about!)
Reality is that encryption keeps the innocent safe and the fact that terrorists have access to the same capabilities is sad but unavoidable, just like the terrorists have access to the same locks on their doors as you do. Back doors would not help keep the terrorists at bay (just like France’s gun laws did not prevent the terrorists from getting their hands on AK-47:s) but instead provide a way for the bad guys to access your entire life. For another example, just look at the TSA-approved luggage locks; these provide no added security, but instead makes it possible to open any luggage lock with a master key. Back doors is a really bad idea, and the experts agree on this. Target lost 40 million credit card numbers in 2014 due to an intentional back door, and Apple’s Mac OSX has contained a backdoor since at least 2011 allowing root access to the system, bypassing any security measures in place.
You might think that “I don’t care if the government can read my e-mail, I got nothing to hide”, but trusting that the government would be the only one who knows how to get into your devices is simply deceiving yourself. The reality is that both the police and the security agencies are getting lazy, and rather avoid doing any actual investigative police work in favor of getting the daily data dumps of everyone who has typed the word “allah” or “bomb” on their device. It is the worst kind of tunnel vision, akin of the post-9/11 airport security “boosts” that are now considered “expensive and 95% ineffective” by the TSA itself.
We as a people need to stay vigilant, and keep our eyes open. The police and intelligence agencies need to do the same, while trying to reach out through campaigns and hotlines to get their hands on the chatter.
In the words of Benjamin Franklin, Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. Don’t give in to this internal terrorism just because you think it keeps you safe from external terrorism.