For more than two years, the FBI and intelligence agencies have warned that encrypted communications are creating a “going dark” crisis that will keep them from tracking terrorists and kidnappers. A new study in which current and former intelligence officials participated concludes that the warning is wildly overblown, and that a raft of new technologies, like television sets with microphones and web-connected cars, are creating opportunities for the government to track suspects, many of them worrying, reports the New York Times. ” 'Going dark' does not aptly describe the long-term landscape for government surveillance,” concludes the study from the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard. The study contends that the phrase ignores the flood of new technologies “being packed with sensors and wireless connectivity” that are expected to become the subject of court orders and subpoenas, and are already the target of the National Security Agency as it places “implants” into networks around the world to monitor communications abroad.
The products, ranging from “toasters to bedsheets, light bulbs, cameras, toothbrushes, door locks, cars, watches and other wearables,” will give the government increasing opportunities to track suspects and in many cases reconstruct communications and meetings. The study, titled, “Don't Panic: Making Progress on the 'Going Dark' Debate,” is among the sharpest counterpoints yet to the contentions of FBI director James Comey and other Justice Department officials, mostly by arguing that they have defined the issue too narrowly. Over the past year, they have repeatedly told Congress that the move by Apple to encrypt data automatically on its iPhone, and similar steps by Google and Microsoft, are choking off critical abilities to track suspects, even with a court order.