Newspaper article International New York Times

Technology Adequate for Terror Fight, Study Finds ; Report Rebuts Claims That Data Encryption Hinders Law Enforcement

Newspaper article International New York Times

Technology Adequate for Terror Fight, Study Finds ; Report Rebuts Claims That Data Encryption Hinders Law Enforcement

Article excerpt

Fears that encrypted communication would prevent agencies from tracking terrorists are overstated, according to a study.

For more than two years the F.B.I. and intelligence agencies have warned that encrypted communications are creating a "going dark" crisis that will keep them from tracking terrorists and kidnappers.

Now, a study in which current and former intelligence officials participated concludes that the warning is wildly overblown, and that a raft of new technologies -- like television sets with microphones and web-connected cars -- are creating ample opportunities for the government to track suspects, many of them worrying.

"'Going dark' does not aptly describe the long-term landscape for government surveillance," concludes the study, published Monday by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard.

The study argues that the phrase ignores the flood of new technologies "being packed with sensors and wireless connectivity" that are expected to become the subject of court orders and subpoenas, and are already the target of the United States National Security Agency as it places "implants" into networks around the world to monitor communications abroad.

The products, ranging from "toasters to bed sheets, light bulbs, cameras, toothbrushes, door locks, cars, watches and other wearables," will give the government increasing opportunities to track suspects and in many cases reconstruct communications and meetings.

The study -- titled, "Don't Panic: Making Progress on the 'Going Dark' Debate" -- is among the sharpest counterpoints yet to the contentions of James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, and other United States Justice Department officials, mostly by arguing that they have defined the issue too narrowly.

Over the past year, they have repeatedly told Congress that the move by Apple to automatically encrypt data on its iPhone, and similar steps by Google and Microsoft, are choking off critical abilities to track suspects, even with a court order.

The Harvard study, funded by the Hewlett Foundation, was unusual because it involved technical experts, civil libertarians and officials who are, or have been, on the forefront of counterterrorism. Larry Kramer, the former dean of Stanford Law School, who heads the foundation, noted on Friday that until now "the policy debate has been impeded by gaps in trust -- chasms, really -- between academia, civil society, the private sector and the intelligence community" that have impeded the evolution of a "safe, open and resilient Internet. …

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