Critics say Comey had a ‘backdoor’ agenda
“Going Dark” is a relatively new term the FBI began under former Director James Comey to note a growing trend and focus on their cyber security investigations especially when it comes to terrorist groups like ISIS. Although contacts between these groups occur in publicly accessible social networking sites, the law enforcement agency sees more criminals and terrorists “Going Dark” by using encrypted private messaging platforms in their communications.
According to Comey’s testimony before a Senate committee, the terrorist threat changed in two significant ways:
- The core al Qaeda has been reduced, but the offspring, including ISIS, AQAP and others are a primary focus
- We are confronting the explosion of terrorist propaganda and training on the Internet. A terrorist operative planted in the United States is no longer required to recruit. Through the ungoverned spaces of social media, propaganda and training materials can attract people who could be sympathetic to their cause.
The term Going Dark is a real and growing gap that must be addressed “since the resulting risks are grave both in both traditional criminal matters as well as in national security matters,” former FBI Direct James Comey admitted before he was relieved of his duties by President Donald Trump earlier this year.
“We face sophisticated cyber threats from state sponsored hackers, hackers for hire, organized cyber syndicates, and terrorists,” Comey stated. “On a daily basis, cyber-based actors seek our state secrets, our trade secrets, our technology, and our ideas—things of incredible value to all of us and of great importance to the conduct of our government business and our national security.”
Comey revealed that the 2012-2014 investigation of Chinese state sponsored cyber intrusion activity “touched approximately 47 of the FBI’s field offices and also required novel approaches to the FBI’s holdings so that prosecutors could extract the most powerful proof by integrating different sources of information.”
That investigation resulted in the criminal indictment of five officers of the People’s Republic of China People’s Liberation Army. Comey mentioned that the 2014 malware intrustion on Sony Pictures Entertainment was quickly established with “high confidence that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was responsible for the attack.”
Comey’s Real Intent
Critics and watchdogs offer a different side of Comey’s intent and say he wanted to force Apple, Google, Facebook, and others to hand over the keys to their encryption technology.
“Intelligence agencies in the U.S. and elsewhere are not going dark,” stated the Rights and Descend organization. “Not by any stretch of the imagination. They continue to hoover up our phone and email metadata, track our movements via automatic license plate readers and Stingray devices, infiltrate our social change movements, and monitor our religious activity. Our intelligence agencies continue to operate on a ‘collect it all’ footing and are, in fact, overwhelmed by all the data they collect. The much bigger problem is the inability to analyze and make use of all the information they have.”
According to critics of Comey, the Obama Administration ignored these cyber defenses:
- Encryption is a safeguard against repression
Backdoor availability can be used by authoritarian regimes to spy on their people, including political adversaries and minorities. In America, we should be firmly against any agency that demonstrates a willingness to circumvent the Fourth Amendment to take aim at political adversaries and minorities.
- Outlawing encryption is like “trying to outlaw math”
Congress can force Google and others to weaken encryption, but it can’t force firms in other countries to follow suit, nor can it prevent terrorists from developing their own encryption. Open Technology Institute’s Kevin Bankston noted that “Any attempt to mandate back doors or prohibit the technology altogether would basically amount to trying to outlaw math, and any attempt to do so will fail to make us safer against terrorism, while making us all much less safe online and also threatening our digital economy.”
- Encryption makes us more secure
The threat from hackers is real. Forcing U.S. companies to offer only weak encryption that law enforcement can break could leave millions of everyday consumers vulnerable to hackers and identity thieves.