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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.