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Terrorism and the Law: cause and effect or effect and cause?

Posted by on January 9, 2015.

Many years ago towards the end of the First Crypto War a Home Office advocate who patrolled one of the crypto mailing lists wrote that it would only take one terrorist spectacular for the people to demand that the government take more control over all things cyber. And then, just a few years later, along came 9/11; and the beginnings of overt intensive and intrusive government control.

Since then those two things have walked hand-in-hand: terrorist act or just threat followed by government demands for evermore draconian police-state control – and it’s not always clear which is the cause and which is the effect.

Dutch Ruppersberger – Member of the U.S. House of Representatives

Dutch Ruppersberger – Member of the U.S. House of Representatives

Take Sony and North Korea. The speed with which the US government blamed North Korea is unusual – especially given the lack of any actual proof coming from the FBI, and the serious doubts voiced by many security experts. However, if it was the action of a nation state it is terrorism; if it was the action of insiders and/or criminals it is merely a crime.

The government has decided it was terrorism – and where you have terrorism you have demands for more control. Re-enter Ruppersberger: CISPA is immediately back on the table.

“The reason I’m putting bill in now is I want to keep the momentum going on what’s happening out there in the world,” Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), told The Hill in an interview, referring to the recent Sony hack, which the FBI blamed on North Korea.
House Dem revives major cyber bill

Which is the cause, and which is the effect: are government demands for more power the cause of terrorist acts, or are terrorist acts the cause of government demands? Before you dismiss the former out of hand, do consider that there are known and proven cases of government false flag outrages.

Richard Bejtlich, chief security strategist for FireEye

Richard Bejtlich, chief security strategist for FireEye

One expert who does seem to dismiss this is FireEye’s Richard Bejtlich. (Bejtlich comes from the Mandiant stock of FireEye; and Mandiant has long been the recipient of many government and government-sponsored contracts):

Others said they believe the FBI has made its case and compared those who deny North Korea’s involvement to people who will not accept that al Qaeda was responsible for the 9/11 attacks.

“I don’t expect anything the FBI says will persuade Sony truthers,” Richard Bejtlich, the chief security strategist for cybersecurity company FireEye, told The Daily Beast. “The issue has more to do with truthers’ lack of trust in government, law enforcement, and the intelligence community. Whatever the FBI says, the truthers will create alternative hypotheses that try to challenge the ‘official story.’ Resistance to authority is embedded in the culture of much of the ‘hacker community,’ and reaction to the government’s stance on Sony attribution is just the latest example.”
Was Sony Hit With a Second Hack?

This is disingenuous. It implies that truthers believe that 9/11 was a false flag outrage. I know a few truthers but I know none who believe that. Their belief is more that the government could have prevented 9/11 but chose not to – and then used it for their own purposes.

This is exactly what is happening now. The US government didn’t hack Sony, but provided it can be classified as an act of terrorism, the US government will ride the crest of public outrage. CISPA is back; and CISPA is an act of opportunism.

Paul Bernal, lecturer at the University of East Anglia Law School

Paul Bernal, lecturer at the University of East Anglia Law School

The same is happening in Europe over the Paris atrocity. But before we give up our freedom for a false promise of safety, consider this from Paul Bernal (lecturer in information technology, intellectual property and media law at the University of East Anglia Law School):

Firstly, that France already has extensive surveillance powers. It already has ID cards. It already has more privacy invasions than we in the UK have – and we have a huge amount. That surveillance, those privacy invasions, didn’t stop the shooting in Paris…

Secondly, and more importantly, it looks almost certain that the perpetrators of the atrocity were already known to the police and intelligence services. They had been identified, and noted. Just as the murderers of Lee Rigby had been identified. And the men accused of the Boston bombings. The intelligence services already knew who they were – so to suggest that more dragnet-style mass surveillance would have helped prevent the atrocity would simply be wrong. Let me say it again. We knew who they were. We didn’t need big-data-style mass surveillance to find them – and that’s supposed to be the point of mass surveillance, insofar as mass surveillance has a point.
Paris damages the case for mass surveillance…

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