London’s Top Cop Says ‘Big Tech,’ Encryption Are Letting The Terrorists Win – Techdirt

Posted: September 16, 2021 at 6:32 am

from the applying-excessive-force-to-a-horse's-corpse dept

Dame Cressida Dick -- the former National Policing Lead for Counter-Terrorism -- has had an op-ed published by The Telegraph that leverages the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks to advocate for less privacy and security for routine targets of terrorist attacks: everyday people without powerful government positions.

Writing from her latest official position -- that of Metropolitan Police Commissioner -- Dame Dick says the War on Terror can be won sort of. (Paywalled but here's an alternate link.)

The future, as ever, is uncertain - as exemplified by the situation in Afghanistan as we wait to see how events there might once again impact on the terrorism landscape. But as I reflect on what has passed since 9/11, I am confident that we continue to develop the exceptional tools and capabilities that will give our counter-terrorism officers the best chance of successfully confronting the threats that will emerge over the next 20 years.

That's just a small part of it. It's headlined by this declaration by the Police Commissioner:

Terrorists seek to divide us -- they won't win

Not so fast, Cressida. Right in the middle of your own op-ed is an admission the terrorists have won, at least using these metrics.

The threat of sophisticated terrorist cells being directed from overseas has been added to by that of the individuals carrying out rudimentary attacks with very little planning or warning. The current focus on encryption by many big tech companies is only serving to make our job to identify and stop these people even harder, if not impossible in some cases.

And there it is: the thing that divides us. Government officials continue to insist that if encryption can be used by terrorists and criminals, then it really shouldn't be accessible to all the non-terrorists who use it to secure their personal information and communications. If the end goal of terrorist attacks is to drive a wedge between the public and their public servants, mission accomplished.

The public would like to have actual security. The government would prefer the illusion of security: a nonexistent form of encryption that only allows good guys to peek in on "secure" communications. And, on the flip side, these officials believe the only people who really "need" encrypted communications are criminals and terrorists since they have the most to hide. If that's the only real market for encryption, then non-terrorists should be happy using insecure communications options because they have nothing to hide and nothing to fear from their governments.

And while we're on the subject of reasoning that's mostly circular, The Telegraph manages to close its own loop by dropping a link in Dame Cressida Dick's op-ed. That link takes you to this article ("Tech giants are making it impossible to stop terrorists, says Dame Cressida Dick"), which opens with this:

Tech giants are making it impossible to identify and stop terrorists carrying out deadly attacks, Dame Cressida Dick warns on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 atrocity.

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner - who was granted a two-year extension on her contract on Friday - said the introduction of end-to-end encryption, which allows users to message one another in complete secrecy, was giving terrorists an advantage over law enforcement.

Companies such as Facebook have argued that introducing encryption will improve privacy for their customers.

But writing in The Telegraph, Dame Cressida warns that terrorists are exploiting such technological advances to radicalise people and direct attacks around the world.

That last link takes you back to Cressida's op-ed, which contains one paragraph about Big Tech and encryption -- a paragraph that is quoted in its entirety further down the page in this separate article. The op-ed links to the article which links to the op-ed which links to the article. It's a neat trick, one that makes one hand clapping sound like applause. One could theoretically spend hours opening each self-referential link, allowing Dick's single argument to become a groundswell movement that gradually consumes every last bit of available RAM (mainly looking at you, Chrome).

And that's as good a metaphor as any for the anti-encryption agitation of officials like the Dame. Like other law enforcement officials who would like to see encryption backdoored if not eliminated completely, the Dame's attacks on encryption appear to operate under the theory that if someone says something often enough, and authoritatively enough, then some people are going to believe these assertions are true.

And at the end of all of this, it must be pointed out that the split between law enforcement officials and security experts continues to increase. But the terrorists didn't cause this split. The War on Terror did. The response to the 9/11 attacks was a power grab by the government, which suddenly had the justification it needed to curtail rights and liberties it often found inconvenient. And now it's Big Government complaining about Big Tech, using terrorism as an excuse to undermine security for everyone.

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Filed Under: cressida dick, encryption, london, metropolitan police, terrorism

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