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November 19th, 2015

Using Paris Attacks as Excuse to Expand Domestic Spying

It’s no surprise that Friday’s Paris attacks are already being used to push for both more and continued surveillance here in the U.S.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler was on Capitol Hill on Tuesday speaking before a House subcommittee, making the case for expanding the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) which compelled telecom companies, Internet providers and some VoIP services to make their networks easier for law enforcement to access. Wheeler would like Congress to consider expanding the scope of the law to include devices such as gaming platforms, which now have capabilities that go beyond mere gaming.

“You read in the press that [the Paris attackers] were using PlayStation 4 games to communicate on,” Wheeler told the subcommittee, “which is outside the scope of anything considered in CALEA, so there’s probably opportunities to update the ‘lawful intercept’ concept.”

Fiber optic wiretap

Courtesy Wikimedia.

The PlayStation is certainly problematic, as Sony’s online service, PlayStation Network, can be used to communicate with others on the platform by text or voice. That being said however, Wheeler refers to a story that’s been debunked and redacted, and there’s no evidence linking the PlayStation to the Paris attacks.

The day after the Paris incidents, Forbes published an article rushed to press by Paul Tassi, claiming the Paris terrorists had coordinated their attack using PlayStation game consoles, and that a console had been found in a raid on an attacker’s apartment. It turned out that there were a couple of problems with Tassi’s story. His claim that the terrorists had used PlayStations was based on a general statement about terrorists made by Belgian federal home affairs minister Jan Jambon three days before the attack, and no gaming consoles were found in searches of the attackers apartments — at least, not that the French police are talking about.

“This was actually a mistake that I’ve had to edit and correct,” Tassi told Jason Schreier with the website Kotaku on Monday. “I misread the minister’s statement, because even though he was specifically saying that PS4 was being used by ISIS to communicate, there is no public list of…what was found in the specific recent raids. I’ve edited the post to reflect that, and it was more meant to be about discussing why or how groups like ISIS can use consoles.”

Although Forbes has published a correction to the article, the original story got traction in the press, bringing speculation by CNN, Fox News, NBC’s Today and others.

Meanwhile, evidently because the NSA’s program of mass collection of phone metadata did such a great job stopping the Paris attacks, Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton said Tuesday that he intends to introduce a bill to delay ending the collection of phone records to Jan. 31, 2017. Under the USA Freedom Act enacted in June, the NSA’s controversial collection practices are scheduled to end on November 28.

Cotton’s bill, which he’s calling the Liberty Through Strength Act, is thought to have little chance of passing, and would also make permanent two provisions of the Patriot Act: “lone wolf” and “roving wiretap.” The first of these permits the NSA to obtain warrants for the electronic monitoring of non-US citizens without providing evidence of any connection to a terrorist organization and the later gives the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court permission to issue a warrant without naming the person being tracked and without specifying the devices or communication methods to be monitored.

Undoubtedly, we’ll soon be hearing renewed pleas from law enforcement for requiring back doors to be included in all mobile devices. Stay tuned…

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Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux

13 comments to Using Paris Attacks as Excuse to Expand Domestic Spying

  • Mike

    I’m really tired of the BS from these idiots about encryption needing to be restricted or compromised.

    FBI Director James Comey, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton are certainly not looking out for U.S. citizens best interests. They are either dangerously stupid or, …decide for yourself.

  • Mike

    Please don’t tell these dangerous morons that any fool can send encrypted messages anonymously using nothing more than a pencil, paper, math and the U.S. postal system.

    Next, they’ll want to outlaw math. Oh wait – the copyright lobby and patent trolls have pretty much taken care of that already.

  • Richard Thornton

    The West is at war with Islam, it’s time you fools recognize it.

  • Mike

    @Richard Thornton,

    Yours is the same rhetoric that put Japanese-Americans in camps during
    WWII and ruined many innocent lives during Senator Joseph McCarthy’s communist witch-hunt.

    Not only is the argument against crypto dangerous to the privacy of all people; it is also stupid. It is completely unworkable. You can’t stop people from using encryption, you can only make it difficult for law abiding citizens to protect themselves.

  • Richard Thornton

    That’s a good idea, build the wall like Israel has built. Problem solved.

  • Mike

    @Richard Thornton

    Yeah, that sure solved all of Israel’s terrorist problems…NOT.

  • Richard Thornton

    Look, using simple math, if only @0% of Muslims are extremist, that’s about 300 million. If there are 8 million in the USA, then that’s about 1.6 million who might share some of the same views as those who murdered the Charlie Hebdo journalists. You think none of the ~ 1.6 million are worthy of any state sponsored monitoring? If you don’t then P.T Barnum was definitely right.

    PS: I am not religious at all, thus beyond a basic cultural family history, I don’t lean Christian, but I have seen very conservative Christian churches in East TN where I grew up, the snake handler variety, and I seriously doubt any of them ever even contemplated .0000001% of the raw brutality the Hebdo murderers thought about every day of their miserable existence. Thus, there is no moral equivalency here, those types of analogies are a crock.

  • Richard Thornton

    I meant 20% not @0%.

  • Mike

    Without encryption, this is the kind of BS you can increasingly look forward to:

    http://www.zdnet.com/article/comcast-injects-copyright-warnings-into-your-browser/

  • richard thornton

    rent your own T1 line. want cheese with the whine?

  • mike

    @richard thornton

    1996 called and they want their technology back.

    It is utterly moronic to claim that if I don’t want ISPs snooping on me and MODIFYING the data I am sending/receiving, then I am somehow at fault for not paying more. You can throw your money away if you like or not, since you seem to have no care with regard to privacy like many idiots around the world. Everything you’ve said in these comments is equally stupid.

  • Richard Thornton

    Look Mike, you’re whining again. You rent the right to use your ISP’s bandwidth; it’s not equivalent to owning the bandwidth.

  • Mike

    I’m not whining, I’m calling you an idiot.

    There’s nothing to prevent the provider selling you that faster connection from doing PRECISELY the same thing, EXCEPT ENCRYPTION.