New Phone Apps Can Help Terrorists Communicate

Schools have an interest in monitoring student communication to prevent cyber bullying and planned attacks. Now counterterrorism forces are also realizing the importance of monitoring these channels.

Terrorists may be exploiting the increasing number of ways improving technology is allowing us to communicate.

Concerns over phone applications that automatically erase messages or offer other ways of ensuring privacy have some security officials warning of their use in potential terrorist plots.

NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller talked to CBS News Nov. 14 about the challenges these apps pose to his department. “You can walk in with a court order from a federal judge, hand it over to the company and say ‘we need to see what’s inside here’ – just like we did in Mumbai, just like we did after 9/11 – and they’ll tell you, ‘We can’t see what’s inside. We designed it to be uncrackable,” Miller explained.

Making a similar point, Belgian Home Affairs Minister Jan Jambon recently warned of growing terrorist networks on gaming consoles such as PlayStation 4. “PlayStation 4 is even more difficult to keep track of than WhatsApp,” Jambon said.

Campus Safety has reported on ‘secret’ mobile apps that students use to hide activity from their parents, but Miller says terrorists could use the applications to “go dark” when plotting attacks.

RELATED: Preparing for the Terrorist Threat to Schools

Schools and universities certainly aren’t in the business of fighting terrorism, but they have been forced to deal with the emerging trend of private phone applications.

Many universities and school districts have also invested in social media monitoring services and have contacted businesses that run apps like Yik Yak about threatening messages.

In the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks last week, security officials in the U.S. are operating on high alert with the knowledge that similar plots are being made around the world. “[The Paris attack] is not a wake-up call, it’s been happening here,” Miller said.

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About the Author


Zach Winn is a journalist living in the Boston area. He was previously a reporter for Wicked Local and graduated from Keene State College in 2014, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in journalism and minoring in political science.

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