Two apparently unrelated trends have been in the public eye over much of the last decade. These are counter terrorism and music piracy. I suspect counter terrorism will encounter problems caused by attempts to crack down on Internet piracy (that is if this crack down continues). In this post I shall explain why I think that, what these problems will be and how they might be averted.
Terrorists must formulate plans, learn techniques and communicate these plans to collaborators. In addition new recruits must be located and the relevant ideologies passed on. Most of these activities can now be performed best with the help of the Internet and modern communications technologies. This is why modern counter terrorism requires access to communications.
Terrorists and their warehouses have physical locations which are potentially vulnerable to counter terrorism operations. When you have a physical location and you are engaged in a confrontation it is vital to you that this location remains secret. Without private information and communications technology (ICT) a terrorist must:
1) physically visit a training camp.
2) fix a physical location to plan.
3) buy all equipment by physically visiting a site.
4) recruit others in a physical local where bugs may be placed and those involved may be identified.
These all create opportunities for detection and monitoring.
For the terrorist though, cryptographic protocols can help with these problems. Terrorist training information may be encrypted and sent anonymously (but note that participants may still be able to identify each other) and later communications may be exchanged using strong cryptography (believed to be unbreakable).
A powerful counter terrorism tactic is to force terrorists to use unusual methods to orchestrate their attacks and so make it much easier to identify them and to prevent those attacks from succeeding.
If only a terrorist would want to buy a particular combination of goods then those that do are likely to be terrorists. In addition if terrorists are forced to employ old fashioned and laborious techniques this will slow them down and make it that much easier to catch them before they cause any damage.
As mentioned above terrorists need to use modern cryptography in order to pursue efficient and secret operations. A good strategy therefore for the counter terrorist would be to make sure that encryption (without back doors of some form for the counter terrorist) are something that few people wish to use. Some legislation is already in force and more is probably on its way to force people to hand over their encryption keys. However, it is likely that counter terrorist, faced with increasingly sophisticated terrorists, will want encryption systems to come with protocols allowing some limited access by counter terrorists. Any found to use systems without such back doors then become a relatively small suspect group who can be investigated more efficiently.
Music piracy flourishes mainly because the public as a whole does not see it as being clearly wrong (or at least not significant enough to act as snitches). Social norms in support of criminal legislation depend on the reasonableness of the law in question (for more of my posts on this topic look at my tags: computers and the Internet and politics). Unfortunately copyright law is no longer providing a fair balance between copyright holders, creators and users. As I have argued in my previous post entitled "a digital libraries act" copyright law for the digital realm should be abandoned and userights should replace it. In short the economic value from a piece of music (or indeed any media) comes from playing the music not from possessing a copy.
Whilst the law remains unjust, however, it causes the following issues:
Restricting who may copy a file creates a communications system in which as few nodes store the relevant file as possible (each node is a potential failure point). Unfortunately networks which use few storage nodes can be more than an order of magnitude less efficient (in use of bandwidth) than more modern networks which have many, more local, nodes.
There are large incentives to break copyright law. This creates an arms struggle between rights holders and the public in which the public stimulate the development of communication systems that:
1) Are decentralized and hard to take offline - Stops music companies from using the courts or ISPs to shut down the network.
Terrorists could use such networks to swap training material.
2) Use encryption to hide the data passed around - Stops music companies from gathering evidence of files passed around for use in court.
Terrorists could use the encryption to keep their communications (and training materials) secret.
3) Anonymize users of the network - Stops music companies from identifying who downloaded a particular file.
Terrorists could use anonymity to keep their physical locations secret and prevent honey traps from being as effective.
So in conclusion, the crack down on music pirates by the music industry is catalyzing the creation of a black network of communications technologies that are a terrorist's dream. They may already be using such networks for all I know. The music industry cannot work with current copyright law without using disproportionate tactics and this is making it harder for those who have (or may soon have) more of a claim to their use.