FBI Director James Comey is the leading government purveyor of the long‐discredited idea that wide‐scale adoption of public key encryption will result in this “going dark” scenario becoming a reality. Again this week, Comey renewed his ill‐conceived anti‐encryption campaign on Capitol Hill.
At a July 8, 2015 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing sensationally titled “Going Dark,” Comey and Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates claimed that encrypted internet messaging has obstructed counter‐terrorism operations against ISIS.
“[I]n recent arrests, a group of individuals was contacted by a known ISIL supporter who had already successfully traveled to Syria and encouraged them to do the same,” they said in their testimony. “Some of these conversations occur in publicly accessible social networking sites, but others take place via private messaging platforms. These encrypted direct messaging platforms are tremendously problematic when used by terrorist plotters.”
But this contradicts the record. Recent court filings by the Department of Justice and federal court records show that encryption use by criminal elements has not precluded successfully breaking up theoretical or actual terrorist plots, including those involving U.S. citizens here at home.
And last month, the British tabloid The Sun claimed the paper helped U.K. authorities stop an ISIS attack by having one of their investigators dupe the leader of ISIS’ “CyberCaliphate” hacking operations into thinking the journalist was a would‐be jihadist. The secure messaging app of choice for the ISIS contact was Surespot, which may already be under a Department of Justice order to cooperate in counterterrorism cases.The Sun’s own journalistic “sting operation” on ISIS shreds Comey’s argument that encryption technology spells the death‐knell for effective law enforcement in counterterrorism operations. If a tabloid newspaper can figure out how to stop terrorists without the advantage of backdoors, why can’t federal government?