Mar 4, 2021 - Technology

Feds warn threats are harder to track as extremists shift to encryption

Capitol.
The U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Included in a new federal government report on possible extremist attacks on the Capitol is a warning that information on specific threats has become harder to come by in the wake of the Jan. 6 siege amid a shift toward encrypted communications programs.

Why it matters: The finding is likely to put the long-simmering debate over strong encryption back on the front burner.

What they're saying: "Our insight into specific threats is increasingly constrained by the expanding use of secure communications by [domestic violent extremists] following the arrest of individuals involved in the Capitol breach," the FBI and Homeland Security Department said in the report, which Axios covered on Wednesday.

Between the lines: While it is likely that more extremists are using encrypted communications, law enforcement could have political reasons for playing up the threat, given their longstanding desire to see tech companies forced to include backdoors allowing law enforcement access to encoded messages.

The other side: Security experts say backdoors in encryption technologies sooner or later escape the control of law enforcement and end up in the wrong hands, leaving everyone less secure.

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