The Obama Administration’s new Countering Violent Extremism Task Force is an effort to coerce Silicon Valley tech companies to cooperate in encryption back-door digital surveillance.
The task force will encompass staff from the FBI, Homeland Security, Justice Department, National Counterterrorism Center, and other federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies to supposedly prevent “extremist groups” from using social media to radicalize and mobilize recruits. The State Department is also establishing its own task force called the Global Engagement Center to work to prevent digital recruiting.
The early December terrorist attack in San Bernardino represents an existential threat to President Obama’s legacy and the fortunes of the Democrat Party in 2016. Over the last six weeks, President Obama’s disapproval rating has steadily risen to 52 percent and his approval rating has fallen to 45 percent, according to Gallup.
The President’s numbers are about 20 percent worse than the average for a U.S. President in his fourth year after an election, and such numbers are often associated with a “negative coattail” effect for the President’s party at the next election.
The Republicans were crushed in 2008 over disgust by women and younger voters with the raging Middle East turmoil. The Democrats won the presidency and added eight Senate seats, 21 House seats, and one governorship on the negative coattail of President George W. Bush.
In the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 40 percent of American voters judged National Security to be their most important issue and 70 percent now believe the nation is headed in the wrong direction. The President’s effort to deflect blame onto gun ownership and climate change has found no traction with voters.
The NBC/WSJ survey found that when voters were asked, “Is taking military action against ISIS in Iraq and Syria in our national interest or not,” roughly 60 percent are ready to send in the military and only 13 percent are opposed to direct intervention.
As a result of these negative trends, President Obama’s disapproval rating has risen by 11 points since early summer and may spike higher after the January 8 ISIS terrorist attack on a police officer in Philadelphia.
The tech industry has mouthed their willingness to cooperate on National Security issues. But American cloud computing companies have reported losing huge oversees sales and opportunities over fears the U.S. security agencies already have encryption keys as “back-door” to access customer’s sensitive data. Forrester Research estimates that such fears could cause the U.S. information technology sector to lose as much as $180 billion in business by the end of this year, according to a story by the LA Times.
Silicon Valley knows that providing U.S. security agencies such a back-door access to private information will fosters deep user distrust and open a portal for malicious attacks by hackers. The tech sector is also concerned the federal government will use the term “extremist group” to go on regulatory and IRS fishing trips into personal data.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on January 8, “Given the way the technology works these days, there surely are ways that we can disrupt paths to radicalization, to identify recruitment patterns and to provide metrics that allow us to measure the success of our counter-radicalization efforts.”
By the White House choosing someone with a name like “Mr. Earnest,” Silicon Valley was reminded of the scandal that erupted in 2013 when former security analyst Edward Snowden leaked information on the U.S. National Security Agency’s use of PRISM and other encryption penetration tools to monitor all Americans’ phone calls.
A big selling point for Apple has been the guarantee by Chief Executive Tim Cook that the company has: “never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services. We have also never allowed access to our servers. And we never will.”
This was memorialized last year when California Governor Brown approved a state law requiring court ordered search warrants for law enforcement to gather private emails, text messages, and GPS data.
But the U.S. government already has the almost blanket right to gain access to any data held in a U.S. server by going to the ‘Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court’ and getting a subpoena for approval “of electronic surveillance, physical search, and certain other forms of investigative actions for foreign intelligence purposes.”
With the Democrats facing a voter crisis of confidence, it seems that Silicon Valley will soon be coerced into granting the Obama Administration “back-door” encryption access.