Pando

United States of Surveillance: FBI pushes for access to secure messaging services

By Nathaniel Mott , written on June 9, 2015

From The News Desk

The FBI isn't giving up on its efforts to undermine secure messaging services.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the agency wants Congress to give it more access to messaging services like Wickr, Snapchat, and WhatsApp, ostensibly because extremists affiliated with the so-called Islamic State are using those services to send "increasingly sophisticated" recruitment messages to people.

An estimated 200,000 people see "direct appeals, videos, instruction manuals and other material" from extremist groups every day. Recruiters are then said to "troll Twitter, Facebook and other sites to see who is re-posting their messages and invite them to text directly on encrypted or data-destroying apps."

Those apps are said to be a black hole for law enforcement. Many either destroy messages after they're seen, claim that they can't decrypt the messages' contents, or otherwise prevent the FBI and other agencies from snooping on the missives. The FBI wants Congress to force these companies to abandon these practices.

Of course, this isn't the first we're hearing of the FBI's efforts to gain access to encrypted communications. Director James Comey has been outspoken in his frustration with encryption since last September, when he invoked child porn to make it seem like Apple and Google's encryption efforts are good for criminals.

Yet there are plenty of arguments for supporting encryption. First is that any backdoors the FBI might use could also be used by other countries or hackers. Second is that it's not clear how much data is shared between the FBI and the NSA. And third is that encryption is becoming more important to free speech.

As special rapporteur David Kaye wrote in a United Nations report in May:

The use of encryption and anonymity tools and better digital literacy should be encouraged. The Special Rapporteur, recognizing that the value of encryption and anonymity tools depends on their widespread adoption, encourages States, civil society organizations and corporations to engage in a campaign to bring encryption by design and default to users around the world and, where necessary, to ensure that users at risk be provided the tools to exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression securely.
The UN has made this point before. Still, the FBI continues to campaign for access to services that have become popular specifically because people don't want their communications to be spied on by the government or tech companies. Welcome to the land of the free -- so long as "free" means "easily surveilled."