Before We Know Much of Anything About Brussels Attack, Encryption Fears Already Invoked

Rep. Schiff raises the issue in a statement.


Brussels attack

We know right now that at least 30 are dead from two terrorist attacks in Brussels, Belgium, in explosions at an airport and a subway train.

We know very little else, and that vacuum of knowledge tends to get filled with speculation, knee-jerk solutions, and "question-raising" designed to draw attention to a pet issue.

In that last category comes Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) of the House's Intelligence Committee. We have no idea if communication encryption played any role in planning these attacks, but Schiff wants to have it both ways by bringing it up as an issue while not trying to speculate the facts. From The Hill:

The top House Intelligence Committee Democrat on Tuesday emphasized that officials are not sure whether encryption helped terrorists plan the Brussels bombings that have killed at least 34 people.

"We do not know yet what role, if any, encrypted communications played in these attacks," Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said in a statement.

"But we can be sure that terrorists will continue to use what they perceive to be the most secure means to plot their attacks," he added.

It doesn't appear that Schiff's statement is in response to questions asked of him but rather a proactive positioning. Schiff's attitude has been that he wants law enforcement to get access to communication but has openly worried that without some sort of "limiting principle," government will regularly be calling on tech companies to break their security to assist in investigations even for small crimes.

It's possible that Schiff is actually trying to get ahead of somebody else attempting to assert early on that encryption is to blame, but it ends up looking like he's the one attempting to blame encryption, without committing in the event that he's proven wrong.

And it's possible that encryption wasn't a major player in the attack. The information coming out of Paris from the investigation of last fall's violence indicated the terrorists primarily relied on disposable burner phones, not encrypted communication, to pull off the attacks. If today's attack turns out to be related to the Paris attack, we may end up seeing some of the same strategies.

And in case you missed it last night: The Justice Department may have figured out how to access San Bernardino terrorist Syed Farook's work iPhone without forcing Apple to help them.