Apple and Facebook are helping the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS. At least that's what you'd gather from the testimony of a top FBI official who told lawmakers the encryption technology those companies use is enabling international terrorists to communicate in secret. It was the latest shot in what has become an all-out war of words between U.S. law enforcement and the Silicon Valley heavyweights trying to maintain the right to privacy online.
Michael Steinbach, assistant director of the FBI's counterterrorism division, told the House Homeland Security committee Wednesday that encryption technology has “afforded a free zone by which to recruit, radicalize, plot and plan” attacks in the Middle East and against Americans, as quoted by Agence France-Presse.
Apple, Google, Facebook and other tech companies have increased encryption -- the process of coding messages so only the intended parties can decipher the meaning -- since Edward Snowden revealed the existence of a massive American surveillance apparatus. The FBI has demonized this business strategy, and Director James Comey is only one of many U.S. federal department heads who has called for laws requiring tech companies to insert surveillance backdoors into their devices.
“We are going dark in certain instances. We suggest and we are imploring Congress to help us seek legal remedies towards that,” Steinbach said, later adding that the FBI is “not talking about large-scale surveillance techniques.”
Earlier this week, Apple CEO Tim Cook -- whose company infuriated the FBI by automatically including an encryption passcode on iOS 8 -- defended his prioritization of encryption, saying the U.S. Constitution forces police to obtain a court's permission before they monitor a suspect's communication. The FBI's Steinbech didn't mention Apple or Facebook, which recently introduced encrypted email, during his testimony, though those companies have led the tech sector in the encryption standoff. Still, that logic has failed to stop senior police officials from predicting “Apple will become the phone of choice for the pedophile.”
One problem with the FBI's logic is that ISIS, also known as ISIL, seems to have largely abandoned Apple products. Sources in Raqqa, the Syrian city that's been ravaged by ISIS, confirmed to International Business Times in February that ISIS leaders have banned the use of iPhones there.
“ '[I]n order to shut one of the doors of penetration the enemy uses to attain its goals and strike with exactness by means of its war and remote-guided aircraft, it has been decided to forbid the use of electronic device or a system that has access to enable precise location of positions (GPS),' the ISIS statement declared, going on to specifically ban “products of the Apple network ... on account of the risks they create.”