War and Privacy
The Spectator
founded 2004 by ron cruger
A place for intelligent writers
A place for intelligent readers
Your comments on this column are welcome. E-mail Josh @
by Josh Lee
2016 Spectator Ron - The Spectator All Rights Reserved
This is a followup piece to the article I wrote last week on the Syrian refugee crisis.
         You already know all the details surrounding the attacks in Paris beginning on November 13, South Africa the following week, and the subsequent raids, arrests, and evacuations since. Youíve heard and read all the news about it. So have i.
         But one piece of the puzzle that puzzles me is that the news media has strangely stayed away from the issue of privacy as it relates to technology. ISIS, IS, and related groups operate online. The internet is their means of reaching out to satellite cells in countries far from Syria. They use encrypted channels that only half a percent of the general population even knows about, that only half of that percentage knows how to get to. They rely on the vast grey areas of the law and ability when it comes to privacy on the internet.
         Given whatís happened in the past couple weeks compounded with the dilemma that the world faces in vetting refugees, however, itís time to end our fight for privacy. We need the internet to be as open as it ca be for our own safety. As President Hollande of France said, weíre at war. Privacy must come second to safety now.
         The first step to opening up the internet so that agencies around the world can access and apprehend terrorists operating on the internet is to master whatís known as the ďdark-webĒ.
         This ďdark-webĒ as itís sometimes referred to, is a huge grey area and something that needs deeper discussion and revelation. The internet, of course, isnít like the physical world we live in. Google Mapsí satellite view of the entire planet is a great analogy. You can see any part of the world through satellite imagery right from your computer. And you can see it all from a birds eye or right down to street level. Hell, now you can see it right from your smart watch. Even if you might not be able to reach it by car, plane, or train, you can see it. And pinpoint any location and you can generally get directions to it from your point of origin. The dark web isnít so accessible. The dark-web is basically a parallel universe to the one we use every day, for purposes of this article weíll refer to it as the ďnormal-web". The dark-web operates in a space that is encrypted and requires specific and advanced software, skill, and sometimes hardware.
The dark-web was born, if I may use that word, as a place where the ďeliteĒ hackers can stay on the grid but off the radar from any snooping, spying, etc. from bodies of authority. Itís a place where all kinds of underground activity takes place. Some of what goes on down there is legal, but most of it isnít. Itís also a place where you really donít need to carry a driverís license to drive. Unlike the normal-web, you can cruise around with a hidden IP-address (the number that identifies your device to the internet) completely anonymously. Thus, itís the perfect place for ISIS to lie low and secretly disseminate information and instruction all without a clear identity. Imagine a dark scary alley way in a red light district. You donít know what goes on in there and as someone who only cruises the normal-web, you look the other way and hurry on by.
         There are two problems with the existence of the dark-web. The first is that, as previously stated, itís just like the normal-web. Itís infinite space. Itís hard enough to police the normal-web, much less the dark-web. To turn over every rock, shine a light into every nook and cranny, itís going to take millions of hours and millions of men and women working on it. The second problem is that, as also previously stated, the dark-web is a place that even the most tech savvy consider uncharted territory. Go into work tomorrow morning and ask your IT manager if he knows how to get to and navigate the dark-web. Chances are heíll say no. This means weíll need to rapidly train people all around the world to be able to cruise the dark-web in patrol cars without GPS. Thatís going to take a long time and the dark forces that wander the dark-web have a pretty big head start.
         Enter Anonymous. Youíve heard of them, theyíre the group that makes announcements cloaked in black with Guy Fawkes masks. They appear at first glance as though theyíre the dark-webís evil ambassadors, but in reality, they stand for justice on both the normal-web and the dark-web. Anonymous is not a government organization, nor a public organization. We donít know their names, how many of them there are, or if they have a leader. And yet, theyíre our best hope for survival on the internet. Anonymous is a group of hackers that, in my opinion, has more intellect, more power, and more training than the NSA. And given that they all work for themselves and their own courage and convictions as opposed to money and a government, I believe they have more motivation and less political corruption. If anyone can take down ISISí access to its main lifeline, the internet, weíll be one step closer to their extinction. Weíve reached
         Now letís bring things a little closer to home. In fact, letís go into your home, into your mobile phone. If you use an iPhone, you probably use iMessage as a channel of communication with other iPhone users. Itís a great feature of Appleís iOS operating system and has revolutionized messaging for iOS device users. Itís given us the simple ability to see whether our message has sent, and if allowed, read. Itís also given us a higher level of privacy when it comes to our communications. iMessages, unlike regular SMS messages (when the bubbles go from blue to green), are sent through encrypted servers owned by Apple. Apple has stated in the past, in response to FAA requests, that it is unable to intercept iMessages sent between users, the way that a carrier can intercept and view SMS messages. iMessage can also use email addresses instead of ten-digit phone numbers and iMessage can be used pretty anonymously. All the end user needs to do is sign up for an iCloud account with an email address. This is great for iOS users, but what about when a terrorist organization is using it and taking advantage of the fact that it is encrypted.
         This heightened level of security isnít just a trait of iOS and iMessage. It was the trait of BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) that made it so appealing as a product and feature to BlackBerry users back in the day. Businesses and their workers could communicate via BBM with the peace of mind that any sensitive information that they send would be sent through an encrypted channel.
         Aside from iMessage and BBM, there are lots of new apps that allow communications via encrypted channels. Most of the relevant apps that allow people to communicate internationally (WhatsApp, Skype, Facebook Messenger, etc.) tout privacy as a key selling point.
         Again, for the general population, this is great. Privacy for the end user has been a huge center of debate over the past couple years and arguably something that the user should be entitled to. Prior to the attacks in Paris, the first in the western world, I argued for privacy.
         I have always been okay with knowing that the government could be reading every character I typed. I guess I grew up in a world where I know that by using this technology, I forfeit some of my civil liberties and most of my privacy. I donít expect privacy when being online. I know that itís very possible for people to steal my credentials when I enter my credit card number on Nordstrom Rackís website. And yes, I would like some privacy, but I donít expect it. I also donít really need it when it comes to the government snooping in my correspondence. I donít engage in terroristic behavior or any other illegal activity. If the government goes through my email, theyíll just find lots of receipts from online shopping.
         There are others who understandably donít share my views. I get that some people really want their privacy and thatís totally understandable. Sure, why wouldnít you? Itís something you expect in the real world, itís something you expect online.
         But letís go back to the idea about the internet being a big, huge, infinite grey area. When it comes to foiling terror plots, the government does hack and spy, but also relies on terrorists making mistakes and being sloppy in covering their tracks. The truth of the matter is that while we have good hackers and a strong understanding of technology, ISIS has proven that they do too. In the wake of these attacks and the sheer amount of infiltration that we now know ISIS has been able to accomplish, should we open our minds to completely opening our internet? This is no longer a world where terror plots can be discovered by intercepting mail, telegraphs, and film slides. There are going to be messages, files, etc. that slip through on encrypted channels that might lead to an attack. By giving up even just a little bit of privacy, we might be able to at least slow down their progress.
         If youíre still with me, I applaud you. Iíll be the first to admit that even as a tech-savvy individual who grew up in the internet age that I donít understand all of what goes on online. I donít know how to access the dark-web or send things through encrypted channels. I donít know the power our government has or the strength Anonymous has. All I know is that we need to asses the state of our infinite internet and we need to do it soon.
         I urge you to think about giving up your privacy for the greater good, and understand that weíre on the cusp of a very real, very scary age of uncharted territory that even George Orwell couldnít have imagined.