Soon after gunshots rang out in Paris on Friday evening, European officials began speculating about how such a well-planned attack went undetected until it was too late.
Spies from multiple allied countries shared intelligence about a threat to Paris in the week leading up to the attack. Why wasn’t it prevented? Several intelligence officials pointed to encrypted communications platforms.
FBI’s director, James Comey, calls this the “going dark” problem: With encrypted messaging increasingly available to the average consumer in services like iMessage and WhatsApp, law enforcement and intelligence officials can no longer easily eavesdrop on private communications between persons of interest.
Some government officials and lawmakers have suggested restricting strong software encryption, requiring tech companies to decrypt a secret message if presented with a warrant. The attack on Paris provided a perfect opportunity for these officials to push this argument.
“We don’t know for sure yet, but I think what we’re going to learn is that these guys were communicating via these encrypted apps,” the former CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell said on CBS Face the Nation.
The former CIA Director John Brennan told a security conference he hopes the attacks will be a “wake-up call” that will highlight the technical obstacles to gathering intelligence from tech-savvy terrorists.
Security experts, digital-privacy advocates, and tech companies have pushed back against Comey and other encryption-phobic officials, warning that carving out access to encrypted communication for law enforcement would compromise the security that underpins much of what happens on the Internet every day.
And for now, it’s not…