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Do US tech companies create tools for terrorists?

Terrorists are using tools created by U.S. tech firms as their "command-and-control networks of choice.”

Published onNovember 5, 2014

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Yesterday, Robert Hannigan, head of the United Kingdom’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), wrote in the Financial Times that terrorists are using tools created by U.S. technology firms as their “command-and-control networks of choice.”

According to Hannigan, the only way to fix this issue to allow more investigations by security and law-enforcement agencies. Hannigan specifically took issue with social media sites and messaging apps along with the “West’s free-speech spirit.” Whether it is terrorists using trending topics like #Ebola or #WorldCup to insert messages or terrorists using violent videos that don’t violate social media rules, the GCHQ and MI5 need more help from the private sector, Hannigan said.

One of the more controversial comments from Hannigan came when he bluntly stated that “privacy has never been an absolute right.”

“Today’s would-be jihadists do not have to search for hidden with secret passwords – which may simply Posts by young people from Syria Track. Without any spam control the daily 40,000 Tweets can send their attacks on Mosul.” – Robert Hannigan

Others were not convinced that the way to move forward is to simply strip away everyone’s privacy. Eva Galperin of the Electronic Frontier Foundation spoke to BBC radio and noted that the intelligence agencies’ “powers are already immense. I think that asking for more is really quite disingenuous.”

Ben Wizner, who works for the US Civil Liberties Union NGO, and is one of Edward Snowden’s lawyers, warned that mass-scale spying posed a long-term threat to free society and democracy. As the article notes, the speech by Hannigan highlighted how much Snowden’s revelations have affected the security industry. Both Apple’s iOS 8 and Android’s OS Lollipop will now come with encryption enabled by default.

After reading Hannigan’s statements, I am still left wondering why the government has not provided more evidence that internet companies are actively obstructing investigations. Based on transparency reports from the social media companies, they do in fact provide information and take down select content.

It is hard to look at his comments and wonder if citizens will have any privacy whatsoever if these government officials have their way.

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