The group known as Islamic State or ISIS is a threat to the United States and its allies not only on the battlefield but also in cyberspace.
ISIS’ leaders and their followers use the Internet and social media to recruit members, especially young people who come from troubled backgrounds.
They use their cell phones, computers and tablets to encourage some of these vulnerable youths to commit acts of violence against the United States and its citizens and harm our interests both at home and abroad.
Social media platforms
Their preferred method is to make an initial contact with a potential recruit on any one of several social media platforms. Then after the recruiting process has advanced to the point where secret, illegal acts are up for discussion, encryption comes into play.
That technology allows messages to be sent that can only be read by individuals authorized to do so. It allows our enemies the luxury of invisibility while they plan their evil deeds.
Such secrecy ties the hands of law enforcement and puts obstacles in the path of the all-important war on terror. An act of terrorism can be blunted or stopped altogether with enough advance warning.
In addition, encryption is a useful defensive measure against thieves who would steal identities and money from unsuspecting Internet users.
An invasion of privacy
On the other hand, restricting encryption or allowing authorities to go around it is seen by many as an invasion of privacy and just another tool available to big government and Big Brother.
Encryption has its place in a free and open society rightly concerned about privacy. Yet law enforcement should not be limited in a difficult war against a brutal and determined enemy.
The answer lies in letting the agencies that protect our freedoms do their important work in an efficient manner, but only after the methods they employ have been authorized and approved in a thoughtful way by our political leaders.
Let’s hope that such a balanced approach to privacy, the limits on government and the successful pursuit of the war on terror is possible in our lifetimes.