It’s been a week since Paris was terrorized in a series of coordinated attacks. For the most part, the world has responded appropriately:
- Celebrities and media personalities have broadcast words of support to those affected, including everyone in Paris and throughout France;
- Governments have shown solidarity with the French government and people to help bring the perpetrators to justice and prevent future attacks;
- Countless people have posted “nice thoughts” to their social-networking feeds, including changing their profile pictures to something with the Eiffel Tower or the tricolore, or both.
But in the week since, two political threads have emerged that will be utterly ineffective and even counter productive for preventing a similar attack.
Allowing governments to circumvent encryption on smartphones and other communication platforms
In the last week, there has been no evidence to prove that the Paris attackers were in fact communicating with each other using encrypted smartphones or some other commercial. In fact, it looks like they communicating in the clear. But even if they were, calls for installing backdoors to devices will only weaken our collective security, not protect it. The long-standing collective wisdom is that if there’s a backdoor for “good guys” (i.e., the government) then it will be there for “bad guys” (i.e., malicious hackers), too. Moreover, as Richard Forno concluded, because “strong” encryption exists, forcing us to use “weak” encryption will do no good because “strong” encryption exists. We will have to learn to live with it. Forno writes:
We must recognize that strong mathematical equations (i.e., cryptography) are one of those things we can’t disinvent—and that the laws of math are, for the moment, not subject to the whims of man or his legal system.”
Forcing companies to install backdoors for the “good guys” (i.e., most every smartphone user) will make the “bad guys” (i.e., terrorists or other covert criminals) to use something else that’s actually secure. Meanwhile, the rest of us will have our data easily compromised by whatever backdoor the government has mandated.
Blocking Syrian political refugees from seeking asylum
At last count, about half of the US state governors, almost all of them Republicans, have said they would not allow Syrian refugees from settling in their states. And yesterday, the mostly Republican and brain-dead House voted to impose screening measures for asylum seekers. The thinking is that closing our borders to Syria will isolate us from a potential group of terrorists. But as has been clear after last Friday, these attacks were staged by disaffected European nationals, not Syrian immigrants to France or Belgium.
Denying Syrian refugees a safe harbor will not keep us any safer from potential terrorists and will only strengthen terrorist recruiting efforts. Zack Beauchamp argues that it is not only wrong to deny refugees asylum in the US, it actually helps ISIS:
if refugees do make it out, ISIS wants them to be treated badly — the more the West treats them with suspicion and fear, the more it supports ISIS’s narrative of a West that is hostile to Muslims and bolsters ISIS’s efforts to recruit from migrant communities in Europe.
In other words, publicly decrying Syrian refugees might win some points with the isolated, reactionary, and xenophobic crowd that make up the Republican primary voting base these days, but it also stirs up the isolated, reactionary, and disenfranchised crowd that agitate potential terrorists. Instead of creating a firewall to isolate a foreign threat, it will only foster home-grown terrorists willing to attack their own countries.