“Going Dark” impacts law enforcement’s ability to keep Americans safe


As the Director of the Department of Justice (DOJ), Special Operation Division, (SOD) in Virginia for almost 10 years, I was fortunate to work with so many outstanding and dedicated people, and to learn about important public safety matters.

SOD is one of the primary U.S. government criminal investigative operational coordination centers with personnel representing 30 agencies of U.S. federal law enforcement, Department of Defense, United Kingdom/ National Crime Agency, Australian Crime Commission, Canadian Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the New York City Police Department.

My father was a 30 year veteran of DEA and retired as the agent in charge of the New York Drug Enforcement Task Force.

My brother was in the U.S. Air Force for over 20 years, but unfortunately was killed in action while working in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. I’m a native New Yorker and my family has a history of public service.

I’m always interested in sharing my experience and knowledge with my fellow citizens especially since we all are living in a time when radical jihadists around the world are trying to destroy our country and take away our freedom.

Over the time period I was the Agent in Charge of SOD from 2005-2014, I witnessed many political and bureaucratic issues that impacted our public safety and national security. The criminal threats to this country are getting more complex and very global.

We need to ask tough questions and demand accountability on our key senior level government executives and congress on matters such as emerging technology.

Many Americans have all heard the prior FBI Director James Comey and other Homeland Security Officials speaking about the “Going Dark” communications issues we are facing in this nation.

Well this is nothing new, the DEA, FBI, other federal agencies as well as our state and local counterparts started to see these issues back before September 11, 2001.

I was part of DOJ’s briefing team with the FBI describing the technology wave we faced back in the early 2000’s. Well suffice to say, now it’s a major issue for law enforcement since we had failed leadership and inadequate support to address these emerging concerns due to the complexity and significant politics.

Some of the DOJ attorneys and other agency representatives were reluctant to hold the telecommunications industry accountable for their lack of service and support to law enforcement. In several cases, the telecommunications industry was impeding investigations on a daily basis, but never held responsible.

Many years were wasted as key public servants avoided this important matter. Now look what we face with advanced encryption and communications technology that can’t be intercepted when law enforcement has a federal or state court order signed by a Judge.

The inability to intercept communications emanating from a criminal’s device is really a substantial problem that needs to be addressed now. We need the public to be better educated on this topic.

It’s not about law enforcement trying to invade anyone’s privacy, it’s about law enforcement trying to protect the public from dangerous criminals and radical terror networks.

We need immediate engagement with congress, law enforcement and the best and brightest communications industry leaders to develop solutions that will protect all parties. Law enforcement is not looking for additional authority, but rather to maintain their ability to protect the citizens of this great country.

If there are criminals in the United States using communication devices to commit criminal activity or plan terrorist acts, law enforcement with probable cause and court authorization needs access to the key communications information.

Law enforcement, with the proper oversight, has had the capability to infiltrate communications technologies for years to prevent crime by infiltrating the key command and control personnel.

By doing this, law enforcement was able to fully identify the criminal networks, the co-conspirators and develop enforcement actions to prevent violent criminal activity.  If we lose this important tool, public safety will be in jeopardy. We will continue to lose vital capabilities if we don’t address this issue immediately.

The Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) was passed in 1994 and its primary purpose was to enhance the ability of law enforcement agencies to conduct electronic surveillance/wiretaps by mandating that telecommunications carriers and manufacturers of telecommunications equipment design their technology so they were equipped with surveillance capabilities.

The law was later extended to cover broadband internet and voice over internet protocol.

The entire law enforcement community in the United States can’t conduct thorough investigations on the criminal networks today without the ability to infiltrate the new technologies.

Encryption was never covered under the CALEA law despite the fact that significant criminal activity was and is currently being organized over the encrypted services readily available.

If carriers release encrypted capabilities to communicate, there needs to be productive discussions on how law enforcement can still be in a position to obtain that critical data and content.

We need good citizens to engage as partners with dedicated law enforcement and have productive national discussions on this important topic. We need to develop solutions for public safety. There are misconceptions in the public about what the law enforcement agencies collect and how they go about it.

The government’s number one priority is keeping Americans safe. Sadly the laws and processes have not kept pace with technology, and this disconnect has created a significant public safety problem.

It unacceptable that the providers can say they are not in a position to provide the solution when law enforcement has the legal authority based on the laws to intercept and access communications pursuant to a court order.

This is a recipe for disaster. We need to update the obsolete laws as well.


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