Tech by VICE

Sen. Feinstein Says Terrorists Only Need The Internet and Encryption To Attack

Who needs bombs and guns?

by Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai
Feb 9 2016, 9:32pm

Image: Neon Tommy/Flickr

The ongoing and seemingly endless debate over encryption technologies appears to have reached its most ridiculous apex.

On Tuesday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), said that all ISIS needs to carry out a terrorist attack in a Western country is an internet connection and an encrypted chat app. And no, she wasn't talking about a cyberattack.

Feinstein's comment came during a Senate hearing on national security threats in Washington D.C., while she was talking about the dangers of ISIS, or ISIL, and its supposed use of encryption to communicate and organize.

"While the coalition's air campaign is helping to deny ISIL some territorial safe havens and financial resources, how do we degrade it and destroy it if all they need to carry out an attack in the West is an internet connection and an encrypted message application?" Feinstein said during her opening remarks.

"How do we degrade [ISIS] and destroy it if all they need to carry out an attack in the West is an internet connection and an encrypted message application?"

Feinstein's comment is perhaps the most grotesque attack on encryption since that of a Massachusetts prosecutor, who said last year that encryption would help perverts take inappropriate pictures of women wearing skirts, and get away with it. But ridiculous comments aside, her words highlight once more that numerous US politicians, as well as US government officials, are not giving up on their tirade against the rise of encryption.

Ever since Apple and Google announced that their new mobile operating systems would use encryption by default (Google later backed out of its promise) in September of 2014, a growing group of critics led by the FBI warned that these measures would make it hard, if not impossible, for cops and feds to do their job. The FBI Director James Comey, perhaps the most visible face in this ongoing crypto war, famously said that widespread use of encryption would "lead us all to a very dark place" where child molesters and terrorists get away with their crimes.

Yet, just as it's been happening in the last 17 months, nobody seemed willing, or capable, to propose an actual feasible solution. Comey said, once again, that he doesn't want a backdoor (nor a "golden key"), but didn't say what he wants other that tech companies to comply with court orders. US spy chief James Clapper said he "would hope" that tech companies and law enforcement haven't "exhausted" what can be done "voluntarily," but didn't specify what he'd like tech companies to do voluntarily.

The solution to the encryption debate remains fleeting, but what's clear is that the crypto war is not going to end any time soon.