(Cyberwar.news) Since 2013 top federal law enforcement officials in the FBI and elsewhere have been pushing Congress and the White House to approve legislation that would essentially give them “backdoor” access into encryption software, arguing it was necessary to track criminal and terrorist activities.
Officials like FBI Director James Comey have testified before congressional committees that the bureau, along with U.S. intelligence agencies, said that encryption technologies and communications are creating a “going dark” crisis that prevents them from tracking the worst of the worst, The New York Times reported Monday.
However, a new study that involved current and former intelligence officials has concluded that such warnings are overly dramatic and overblown because new and emerging technologies like “smart TVs” with microphones and cars that are connected to the Internet give agencies multiple opportunities for the government to track suspects, though that in and of itself is troubling to privacy advocates.
“‘Going dark’ does not aptly describe the long-term landscape for government surveillance,” the study, to be published Monday by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, concluded.
Researchers argue that the phrase is misleading because it does not acknowledge a raft of new technologies “being packed with sensors and wireless connectivity” that will probably become, at some point, the subject of court cases. These technologies are already being targeted by the National Security Agency as it places “implants” into networks the world over to monitor global communications, the Times said.
Products ranging from “toasters to bedsheets, light bulbs, cameras, toothbrushes, door locks, cars, watches and other wearables” are going to give governments more chances to track suspects – and of course non-suspects – as well as the ability to reconstruct communications and meetings.
The study, titled, “Don’t Panic: Making Progress on the ‘Going Dark’ Debate,” is “among the sharpest counterpoints yet to the contentions” of Comey “and other Justice Department officials, mostly by arguing that they have defined the issue too narrowly,” the Times reported.
In just the past year these officials have told lawmakers repeatedly that Apple’s decision to automatically encrypt data on its popular iPhone, as well as similar steps planned by Google and Microsoft, are limiting or eliminating crucial capabilities to track suspects, even with a court order (which, of course, should be the case in every case, as per the Fourth Amendment).
But last fall President Obama concluded that efforts to legislate government back doors into encryption technology and communications would just open the door for hackers – including many working for foreign governments hostile to U.S. interests. The president also felt as though such legislation would create a bad precedent for authoritarian governments around the world to exploit.
Many Republican candidates for president have called on technology companies to find ways for investigators to be able to unlock encrypted communications. The top Democratic contender, Hillary Clinton, has made similar demands, calling on tech companies to join in the fight against terrorist organizations like the Islamic State.
As Cyberwar.news has reported, IT analysts and experts agree that putting backdoors into encrypted communication technology is an open invitation for hackers to exploit and penetrate them.
“I’m going to say this as plainly as possible, since the message doesn’t seem to be getting through: If we compromise the security of our computing devices in a misbegotten attempt to stem criminal behavior or terrorism—as some in law enforcement and government suggest we do—then, we deserve what will follow,” Christopher Mims wrote in The Wall Street Journal last month.
Also, the NSA chief, Adm. Mike Rogers, has defended the use of encrypted communications.
“What you saw at OPM, you’re going to see a whole lot more of,” he told the Atlantic Council in January, in a reference to the massive hack of the Office of Personnel Management, in which data involving more than 21 million current and former government employees was compromised.
“So spending time arguing about, ‘Hey, encryption is bad and we ought to do away with it’ … that’s a waste of time to me,” he said.
“So what we’ve got to ask ourselves is, with that foundation, what’s the best way for us to deal with it? And how do we meet those very legitimate concerns from multiple perspectives?”
Former NSA Director Gen. Mike Hayden agrees that backdoors are a bad idea.
“I disagree with Jim Comey. I actually think end-to-end encryption is good for America,” he has said recently.
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