Terrorists' new phones
It’s a good thing Najibullah Zazi didn’t have access to a modern iPhone or Android device a few years ago when he plotted to blow up New York City subway stations. He was caught because his email was tapped by intelligence agencies—a practice that Silicon Valley firms recently decided the U.S. government is no longer permitted.I have been opposed to this encryption from the start. These companies are reacting to the Snowden controversy, and it is to the detriment of national security for the US and its allies. They are supplying the command and control for the enemy and that is a problem.
Apple , Google, Facebook and others are playing with fire, or in the case of Zazi with a plot to blow up subway stations under Grand Central and Times Square on Sept. 11, 2009. An Afghanistan native living in the U.S., Zazi became a suspect when he used his unencrypted Yahoo email account to double-check with his al Qaeda handler in Pakistan about the precise chemical mix to complete his bombs. Zazi and his collaborators, identified through phone records, were arrested shortly after he sent an email announcing the imminent attacks: “The marriage is ready.”
The Zazi example (he pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges and awaits sentencing) highlights the risks that Silicon Valley firms are taking with their reputations by making it impossible for intelligence agencies or law enforcement to gain access to these communications. In September, marketers from Apple bragged of changes to its operating system so that it will not comply with judicial orders in national-security or criminal investigations.
“Unlike our competitors,” Apple announced, “it’s not technically feasible for us to respond to government warrants.” This encryption was quickly matched by Google and the WhatsApp messaging service owned by Facebook.
In a private meeting last month, Deputy Attorney General James Cole asked the general counsel of Apple why the company would want to market to criminals. As the Journal reported last week, Mr. Cole gave the hypothetical of the police announcing that they would have been able to rescue a murdered child if only they could have had access to the killer’s mobile device. Apple’s response was that the U.S. can always pass a law requiring companies to provide a way to gain access to communications under court orders.
Since then, U.S. and British officials have made numerous trips to Silicon Valley to explain the dangers. FBI Director James Comey gave a speech citing the case of a sex offender who lured a 12-year-old boy in Louisiana in 2010 using text messages, which were later obtained to get a murder conviction. “There should be no one in the U.S. above the law,” Mr. Comey said, “and also no places within the U.S. that are beyond the law.”