Hillary Clinton's Nonsense Plea for Silicon Valley to "Disrupt ISIS"

By Kate Knibbs on at

US Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton called on California's Silicon Valley companies to work at “disrupting ISIS” at a speech this Sunday.

Clinton emphasised that jihadists use websites, chatrooms, and social media to recruit and plan, and that their radicalism is “fuelled by the internet”.

“It’s time for an urgent dialogue between the government, not just our government, and the high-tech community, to confront this problem together,” Clinton continued.

On its face, calling for startups and tech companies like Google and Facebook to “disrupt” anything is a vague, hollow entreaty, and taken out of context, it sounds like Clinton is hurling buzzwords at a problem. Assuming that Silicon Valley could “disrupt” a terrorist organisation at all places an absurd amount of trust in a for-profit sector’s ability to conduct statecraft.

But this is coded language.

The government is at odds with tech companies over encryption. FBI Director James Comey has repeatedly argued that the government should have “front door” access to data, and he hasn’t been shy about tying this access to the threat of so-called Islamic State. A Department of Justice official told Apple executives that the barrier encryption presents law enforcement could lead a child to die.

When Clinton calls for “disruption”, she is echoing Comey’s past suggestions that the tech community needs to figure out a way to give the government a special workaround to access data. Comey has ignored experts (and mathematical feasibility) to insist that there is a secret way to preserve privacy while weakening the encryption that provides that privacy; tech companies just haven’t figured it out yet it would seem.

She’s also echoing her previous comments on the encryption debate. Last month, she called for Silicon Valley to cooperate with the government on encryption solutions. “We need Silicon Valley not to view government as its adversary,” she said in November.

Tech companies don’t want to create special encryption loopholes for governmental powers, and it’s not because Apple loves IS or some other idea. It’s because these special loopholes would leech encryption of its power to protect privacy. By making a security hole for the government, companies would be leaving themselves vulnerable to hackers, thieves, and spies exploiting that hole.

When Clinton calls for Silicon Valley IS disruption, it’s a way to call for encryption loopholes without explicitly calling for encryption loopholes. While this wasn’t the most hawkish thing she said during the speech (that’d probably be when she mentioned that the US could taken military action against Iran for violating its deal) it is a comment that strongly suggests that a Clinton Administration would be just as pigheaded about encryption and privacy as its predecessors.

Image: AP

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