The director of Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, has warned about the growing use of encryption for online communications. Speaking to BBC Radio, Rob Wainwright said: “It’s become perhaps the biggest problem for the police and the security service authorities in dealing with the threats from terrorism.” Wainwright is just the latest in a string of high-ranking government officials on both sides of the Atlantic that have made similar statements, including FBI Director James Comey, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, the head of London’s Metropolitan Police, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, and UK Prime Minister David Cameron.
Wainwright told the BBC that the use of encrypted services “changed the very nature of counter-terrorist work from one that has been traditionally reliant on having good monitoring capability of communications to one that essentially doesn’t provide that anymore.” What that overlooks is that the “good monitoring capability” was of very few channels, used sporadically. Today, by contrast, online users engage with many digital services—social media, messaging, e-mail, VoIP—on a constant basis, and often simultaneously. Although the percentage of traffic that can be monitored may be lower, the volume is much higher, which means that, overall, more information is available for counter-terrorism agencies.
Wainwright also claimed that terrorists were using the “dark net,” “where users can go online anonymously, away from the gaze of police and security services.” One of Snowden’s leaks revealed that the NSA has managed to unmask anonymous users of Tor, so that ability to avoid the “gaze” of the police and security services is not absolute.
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