Michael Chertoff, co-author of the Patriot Act, a set of laws that provided the U.S. government with broad surveillance powers in the wake of 9/11, is unashamedly proud of what he built.
Speaking to FORBES ahead of the June 1 expiration of three sections of the Act, including Section 215 that’s currently the focus of much scrutiny and the subject of much opposition from human rights activists, Chertoff claims the Act’s provisions for the collection of communications data have helped protect Americans from the manifold threats to national security. He cites the successful shutdown of an August 2006 plot to blow up planes traveling from the UK to the US. He believes Section 215, which grants agencies the power to gather all “tangible things” from organizations and individuals as long as they’re deemed necessary for an investigation, will be renewed with just minor alterations when the time comes, and blanket surveillance will be approved yet again, despite everything Edward Snowden revealed to the world.
But Chertoff, who now runs a cybersecurity consultancy, doesn’t support everything the surveillance industrial complex demands. In particular, the calls for backdoors in widely-used software, such as Apple iOS or Google Android, allowing the government to access suspects’ online conversations, are unnecessary, Chertoff tells FORBES.
The former secretary of Homeland Security under president George Bush says terrorists and other foreign threats would simply use other technologies, those out of US snoops’ reach. And such purposeful vulnerabilities would “undercut the concept of security and privacy”. “The people who are really bad will find a way to use a device without a backdoor,” he adds, noting that law enforcement has other ways to get at cryptographically protected data.
The US government may have already backed down from its previous attempts to gain backdoor access into popular software. They are now pursuing what has been labelled “front door” access. NSA director Michael S. Rogers told the Washington Post a multi-part encryption key, controlled by various parties, including the government and tech companies, could be used to unlock devices of suspects.
As for the Patriot Act, which Chertoff describes as a “pretty middle-of-the-road response” to the threats facing America, he doesn’t think Section 215 was misused by the National Security Agency nor other parts of the US government, even if some were unhappy about its use. He believes Section 215 will survive, with minor amendments, likely around where citizens’ data is stored.
Chertoff says the old laws prevented vital intelligence on Zacarias Moussaoui, one of the convicted men behind the terrorist plot, from being shared. “The old framework resulted in missing what would have been a very significant piece of data with respect to the developing plot on 9/11.”
But Chertoff, who is currently in The Hague fulfilling his role in the Global Commission on Internet Governance (GCIG), could be wrong. A bill to reauthorize the Patriot Act’s Section 215 has yet to materialize. Many believe Section 215 infringes too much on people’s privacy. Even comedian John Oliver recently mocked the ability granted by the law to collect all “tangible things” that could be relevant to a government investigation. And with the Snowden files continuing to reveal various US surveillance efforts, alongside President Obama’s promises to reform spying powers, the Patriot Act might start crumbling.
This article was written by Thomas Fox-Brewster from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.