Skip to main content

We’re not ‘going dark’: Harvard study refutes FBI’s view on encryption

A new study from Harvard has challenged the FBI’s claims that the use of encryption, or “going dark,” will inhibit law enforcement when investigating crimes or terrorism.

The report, Don’t Panic. Making Progress on the “Going Dark” Debate, published by Harvard’s Berkman Center, claims that officials’ anti-encryption stances are overblown and the glut of new Internet-connected devices hitting the market gives law enforcement more avenues for carrying out investigations.

“Appliances and products ranging from televisions and toasters to bed sheets, light bulbs, cameras, toothbrushes, door locks, cars, watches and other wearables are being packed with sensors and wireless connectivity,” said the report, which goes on to name-check the myriad major companies making smart home products like TVs or wearable devices that could be utilized by law enforcement.

“These devices will all be connected to each other via the Internet, transmitting telemetry data to their respective vendors in the cloud for processing,” the authors said.

“The audio and video sensors on IoT devices will open up numerous avenues for government actors to demand access to real-time and recorded communications.”

Authors of the report include renowned cryptographer Bruce Schneier and Jonathan Zittrain from Harvard Law School. Their report says the FBI is largely ignoring this wave of new Internet-connected devices by focusing on encrypted communications. They argue that the Internet will still be populated by mostly unencrypted traffic.

The encryption or “going dark” debate centers on the argument that law enforcement need a means to access communications in order to pursue criminal investigations. Encryption put in place for users by device manufacturers or services would make this practically impossible, regardless of whether there was a warrant or not.

Recently, NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers questioned the argument put forward by the FBI and its chief, James Comey, over the need to apply backdoors in encrypted communications.

However the authors of the Harvard report do concede that technology has “to some extent” made investigations more difficult but not impossible.

“[We] question whether the “going dark” metaphor accurately describes the state of affairs. Are we really headed to a future in which our ability to effectively surveil criminals and bad actors is impossible? We think not.”

Editors' Recommendations

Jonathan Keane
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Jonathan is a freelance technology journalist living in Dublin, Ireland. He's previously written for publications and sites…
I saw Lenovo’s futuristic transparent laptop, and it absolutely stunned me
Thinkbook Project Crystal proof-of-concept transparent laptop

A major theme for this year already appears to be transparency, with staple brands such as Samsung and LG showcasing their see-through products -- the transparent micro-LED display and the Signature OLED T transparent TV, respectively -- at CES 2024 last month.

Now, Lenovo is giving the industry a look at its Lenovo ThinkBook Transparent Display laptop, a proof of concept that is a highlight of its presentation at Mobile World Congress 2024 (MWC) 2024 in Barcelona, Spain, this week. The company is calling the ThinkBook Transparent Display laptop the "concept car of laptops." I got to check out the laptop before the conference and was blown away upon seeing the product in person.

Read more
How to find and copy a file path on Mac
MacBook with a notebook and keys on a desk.

If you need to know the exact location of a file on your Mac, you'll need its file path. And you'll probably want to copy the file path to your clipboard for later use too. Lucky for you, we know how to do that.

In this guide, we'll go over four easy ways to find and copy a file path on your Mac. With so many quick options to choose from, you're sure to find the best method for you.

Read more
The Tecno Pocket Go looks like the AR glasses of my dreams
Tecno Pocket Go AR gaming kit.

Tecno, which has made a name for itself with wild smartphone experiments and brought foldables to a more palatable price point, is now looking to make a splash in the gaming segment. The company’s latest offering is the Pocket Go, which the company claims to be the world’s first Windows-based AR gaming kit.

The system includes a pair of AR glasses fitted with 0.71-inch Micro-OLED display units. These display units offer the visual experience of a 215-inch large screen at a perceived distance of six meters. A neat addition is that Tecno’s AR glasses support adjustment for users who wear prescription glasses or lenses.

Read more