Clamor for “Backdoors” to Cyberspace after Paris Attack

The recent spate of terrorist attacks in France and Lebanon have revived the call to allow the US government to have access to messages in cyberspace.

Intelligence agencies are pushing for the opening of “backdoors” in communications for the sake of national security.  This would mean granting access to telephone calls, e-mail, chat apps, and other forms of electronic communication.

Technology and communications companies as well as privacy advocates, however, believe that opening backdoors would actually make internet data more vulnerable. Hacking of personal information and web sites seem like the more possible outcome rather than detection of terrorist activity.

Aside from the 9/11, lobbying for surveillance and monitoring of communications had heated up with the revelations of Edward Snowden. Snowden, a former contractor for the National Security Agency, had divulged confidential NSA information in 2013.

The lobbyists seemed ready to step back until the Paris attack. The grim Charlie Hebdo incident last January in France had brought about the enactment of a law on surveillance. But just a few months after the passing of that law, Paris suffered an even more tragic assault, leaving 129 dead and several wounded.

Three days before the Paris attacks, Belgium’s Minister of the Interior voiced his belief that even Sony’s Playstation 4 might be used by terrorists to send messages. To this, Sony replied that “PlayStation 4 allows for communication amongst friends and fellow gamers, in common with all modern connected devices.

We take our responsibilities to protect our users extremely seriously, and we urge our users and partners to report activities that may be offensive, suspicious or illegal. When we identify or are notified of such conduct, we are committed to taking appropriate actions in conjunction with the appropriate authorities.”

Intelligence officials believe that terrorists could make use of encrypted messages to slip through security and surveillance. Last August, a lawyer for the US Intelligence had stated that such an act of terrorism “could turn in the event of a terrorist attack or criminal event where strong encryption can be shown to have hindered law enforcement.” Even the UK is contemplating on the passing of its own bill on surveillance.

Dianne Feinstein of the Senate Intelligence Committee expressed her opinion on MSNBC last November 16 that

“Silicon Valley has to look at its products because if you create a product that allows evil monsters to communicate in this way, to behead children, to strike innocents – whether it’s at a game in a stadium, in a small restaurant in Paris, take down an airliner – that’s a big problem.”

Just weeks from now, the US will be scrapping one of its programs involving the collection of phone metadata. This type of espionage was found to be of no benefit to counter-terrorism.

Meanwhile, CIA Director John Brennan expressed his disappointment in the restriction of intelligence monitoring for the sake of privacy and civil liberties: “Our sensibilities and souls should have been jarred once again.”