Last November, we ran through the list of senior law enforcement officers on both sides of the Atlantic who all came out with suspiciously similar whines about how strong crypto was turning the internet into a “dark and ungoverned” place. Judging by this story in Reuters, others want to join the choir:
Some technology and communication firms are helping militants avoid detection by developing systems that are “friendly to terrorists”, Britain’s top anti-terrorism police officer said on Tuesday.
That remark comes from Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, who is the UK’s National Policing Lead for Counter-Terrorism, replacing Cressida Dick. Here’s the problem according to Rowley:
“Some of the acceleration of technology, whether it’s communications or other spheres, can be set up in different ways,” Rowley told a conference in London.
“It can be set up in a way which is friendly to terrorists and helps them … and creates challenges for law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Or it can be set up in a way which doesn’t do that.”
“Set up in a way which is friendly to terrorists and helps them” obviously means using strong crypto; “set up in a way which doesn’t do that” therefore means with compromised crypto. Like his colleagues, Rowley too blames the current mistrust between the intelligence agencies and computer companies on Edward Snowden:
“Snowden has created an environment where some technology companies are less comfortable working with law reinforcement and intelligence agencies and the bad guys are better informed,” Rowley told Reuters after his speech.
Well, no, actually. That “environment” has been created by the NSA and GCHQ working together to break into the main online services, and undermine key aspects of digital technology, with no thought for the collateral damage that ruining internet security might cause for the world. Rowley is also quoted as saying:
“We all love the benefit of the internet and all the rest of it, but we need [technology companies’] support in making sure that they’re doing everything possible to stop their technology being exploited by terrorists. I’m saying that needs to be front and centre of their thinking and for some it is and some it isn’t.”
The technology is not being “exploited” by terrorists, it’s being used by them, just as they use telephones or microwaves or washing machines. That’s what those devices are there for. The idea that trying to make broken internet technologies should be “front and center” of technology companies’ thinking bespeaks a complete contempt for their users.
This constant refrain about how awful strong crypto is, and how we must break it, is simply the intelligence services implicitly admitting that they find the idea of doing their job in a free society, where people are able to keep some messages private, too hard, so they would be really grateful if technology companies could just fall in line and make life easier by destroying privacy for everyone.