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In the wake of the recent Paris attacks, the FBI is going to increase wiretaps on suspected ISIS sympathizers within the US. Agents told CNN that there are no known terrorist plots active in the US, and this move is merely a precautionary measure. The agents report that this move is not unprecedented and the same thing occurred after the terrorist attack in Garland, Texas earlier in the year.

According to the agents, the attack was followed by months of 24/7 surveillance of suspects which taxed the agency’s resources and was unsustainable. They also report dozens of arrests were made during that time, many of them on charges unrelated to terrorism, because the agency could not find evidence of a terrorist plot. “In some cases we just needed to get people off the streets,” one senior law enforcement official said. 

The FBI certainly aren’t the only ones who believe that more surveillance is needed to combat terrorism. Stewart Baker, former assistant secretary of homeland security and before that general counsel of the NSA, took to Twitter to argue in favor of the NSA’s bulk collection of phone records. The program is scheduled to end late in the month as mandated by the USA Freedom Act. Baker argues that the program is designed to prevent similar terrorist attacks and now is a bad time to discontinue it.

Of course the NSA has far more intrusive surveillance programs operating in foreign countries than it does in the US, which didn’t prevent the Paris attacks. Nor did France’s own surveillance measures, which become even more intrusive following the Charlie Hebdo shootings, prevent the attacks. Despite assurance that mass surveillance is necessary to stop terrorism, there is a curious lack of results in either thwarted attacks or terrorism related convictions based on the surveillance.

However, proponents of mass surveillance have one final tactic, blame encryption for the success of the Paris attacks. Snowden himself is being blamed because his leaking of NSA documents informed terrorists of surveillance techniques. Government officials specifically cite encrypted messaging apps like WhatsApp and iMessage as being “big issues.” While Yahoo News and other sources report uncritically the government line about the dangers of encryption and lay the blame on Snowden, TechDirt points out that terrorists were already able to thwart surveillance using encryption as far back as 2001, well before the Snowden leaks. Anyone who really wants to use encryption will always be able to do so, and the push for backdoors in encrypted apps will simply compromise security for users without actually stopping terrorists who have used alternative methods of encryption for years.

Is mass surveillance and backdoors in encrypted messaging apps going to make us safe from terrorism? Leave your comments below.

Max Michael

Senior Writer

I’m a technology reporter located near the Innovation District of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.

  • Ms_Fortune


    Those would give up freedom and privacy for a false sense of security deserve neither.

  • Charmieos

    Yes, the real reason Paris happened is because https exists, no terrorist attacks ever happened before the propagation of the internet and encrypted websites. I mean it’s not like a far more successful attack was staged in 2001 without use of the internet… oh wait

  • Honk Honk

    i agree with the FBI, we wont be safe from terror until theres a microphone in every anus

  • Hyrules

    “PRISM works, we swear! J-Just ignore that none of the mass surveillance programs have ever been credited with even stopping attempted terrorist attacks and planning even under official inquiry!”

    Oh fuck off FBI. This is like video game companies blaming “piracy” for why their game fails to be profitable.

  • ParasiteX

    If you give up privacy and freedoms to combat terrorism.. then you have just let the terrorists win.

  • mbits

    Anyone who says “your freedom of speech and your right to privacy are to blame for terrorism” needs to be fucking taken out of their position, immediately.

    Freedom and privacy trump security. Period. Being secure has no value if it means you can’t be free and unmonitored.

    Anyone with that kind of mindset is criminally unamerican and can not be trusted.

  • For a false sense of safety and security, you have to give up freedoms. Security is never convenient. Personally this CHAOS God would prefer to have his freedoms more than a false sense of security.

  • Fient

    shameless chance to scapegoat something non related to a big event, this is what they had been waiting for, a chance to justify reactivating the program and making it bigger and stronger than before

    obviously terrorism is the issue, but the large amount of undocumented and untracked migrants in france and their low local security are the likeliest of reasons this was possible, more than user privacy in websites

    this isn’t freedom vs security
    it’s truth vs lies

  • Cytos Lpagtr

    like banning encryption will do anything. jebus. you cant ban something so.. basic. whenever a mathematician and a programmer bump into each other an encryption program is born. it would only make the masses more vulnerable while the crooks will still be able to use it.
    and like online banking and shit? dumbasses.

    criminals eat pancakes too, so lets ban combining pancake batter with a heat source!

  • m-p{3}

    And I blame extremism. Encryption is merely a tool, and only the person using it is responsible for its use. Will we ban anything pointy and sharp because it has the potential to hurt innocents if used with ill intents?

    And like anything that has been criminalized (some drugs, weapons, etc) ultimately it won’t affect criminals, only those innocents would could make a legitimate use of them.

  • ghost8818

    blow it out your a** – nuke dukem

  • Galbador

    Of course, when failing, then blame the things that has so LITTLE to do with it, so no one is asking. If they really think that banning encryption will do anything, they’re wrong. This was not the first encryption nor the last one. I can only facepalm over all this idiocy and fake whitewashing things with censorship. The world… no… MANKIND is going bonker because of crap like this, seeing the solution in things and people, who had ZERO work into those events. Gosh, people… use your brains for ONCE, please!!

  • You can’t backdoor PGP mail