Paris Attacks as an Excuse for Internet Surveillance

November 25, 2015

Lots of unconfirmed information, recent happenings and expanding atmosphere of fear are being discussed all over the Internet with one important question appearing – is the online anonymity serving extremist groups?

During the last couple of days you might have been overwhelmed with strong discussion about controversy around encryption of the communication on the Internet. Paris terrorist attacks on the 13th of November have become an international impulse for enforcing the governments’ attempts to legalize surveillance of everything people do online. On the other hand, counter-opinion supporters produced thousands of articles arguing its actual consequences will cause more harm than help. So what are the bulletpoints of the vivid discussion?

It all started with several speculations blaming Edward Snowden’s revelation of NSA surveillance for the increased popularity of applications serving for anonymous online communication such as Whatsapp or Telegram and continued with efforts of UK government to speed-up the planned Investigatory Powers Bill that could, according to David Cameron (UK Prime Minister), prevent similar attacks in the future. The opposition arose immediately with calling such laws breathtaking attacks on Internet security.

While chosing between the two camps is difficult, it is important to understand both pros and cons of these actions. Enabling some kind of “back doors” for authorities will simultaneously allow hackers and basically anybody with distinctive skills in computer science to access your personal information that you have shared online. After Snowden’s actions various companies including Apple announced, that even if they wanted to help with decrypting, they couldn’t. This was confirmed during the case of recent murder near Chicago, when two mobile phones where found at the crime scene, but couldn’t be accessed due to the passcodes used.

However, it may seem that encryption serves criminals and has nothing to the with public, the reality isn’t that clear. The back doors implemented into the encryption process would actually change the Internet as we know it today. Encryption serves in many online processes besides communication. Without it all the things we use Internet for wouldn’t be secure anymore. Just naming the very basic ones – online shopping, smart banking etc. As Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive officer stated: “If you put a key under the mat for the cops, a burglar can find it too.”

Moreover, those immediate steps by the government officials suggest an important question. Aren’t Paris attacks used as a smart excuse for expanding general surveillance of the Internet? According to key findings of Freedom on the Net 2015 report, monitoring of online activity has increased significantly during the recent 5 years. To mention just a few interesting facts, the report shows that criticism of authorities belonged to the most censored topics. While the governments are comparing encryption to an instrument of terrorism, 58% of all Internet users live in countries where bloggers were imprisoned for publishing or sharing content on political, social or religious issues.

Blaming Edward Snowden for the attacks is another topic that is full of ambiguities. As an internationally known person, Snowden has become a “fall guy” for a complex problems present in the whole world. As Glenn Greenwald wrote in his article in The Intercept, security forces have been aware of the encryption gaps long before Snowden’s revelations.

Building decentralized applications and secured means of communication is meant to enable people to protect their privacy and avoid manipulation. In DECENT, we believe that everyone in the world deserves the right to express himself and shouldn’t be punished for vicious goals of extremist groups or obscure intentions of the authorities.

Even though, neither encrypting nor its banning seems to be the ideal solution for current situation, some things stay clear. If the “encryption backdoor laws” are put into action, as a consequence, normal people will be left unsecured, while the extremist groups will find another ways to stay well hidden in front of Big Brother’s eyes. The actual motives may be covered with a lot of sensational events and topics that serve well in building public attention and fear. As Ross Schulman said, our intentions should rather be aimed to find out, who the bad guys are and break into their devices that hold the decrypted information than break the security of everyone else. Or as Pavel Durov, the founder of Telegram which was allegedly used to organize the attacks, suggested: we should try to ban the words known to be used by IS instead of banning the privacy itself.