Sina Beaghley Discusses the "Going Dark" Problem

In September, the RAND Alumni Association (RAA), in partnership with the Pardee RAND Graduate School, hosted a conversation in the Santa Monica office with Sina Beaghley, senior international/defense policy analyst, who spoke about the challenges of balancing intelligence, security, and privacy.

Beaghley, formerly the director for intelligence and information security on the National Security Council staff, discussed how—in the wake of the Edward Snowden unauthorized disclosures—privacy questions were raised in the U.S. and around the world about the extensive reach of government surveillance activities. The volume, scope, and scale of what was provided to reporters through the Snowden unauthorized disclosures were unprecedented, Beaghley said.

Many U.S. technology and telecommunications companies were seen as complicit in some of the alleged spying on citizens’ data, and they responded by making it clear that they would no longer cooperate with U.S. law enforcement and intelligence unless compelled to do so legally—and some technology companies accelerated deployment of data encryption as the standard for information storage on devices to protect them from surveillance, she said. The government and law enforcement officials raised objections to such encryption-by-default methods, citing concern that these measures have created a “going dark” problem for them in obtaining data that could prevent a crime or terrorist attack.

By mid-2015 there was a “virtual stalemate” between the government and the technology community, Beaghley said. Then, in November 2015, there was a series of coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris, and the terrorists involved reportedly used encrypted messaging systems, such as What’s App, to plot the attacks and communicate with each other—an example of the going dark problem. The intelligence community could not see the attack coming, which Beaghley described as an “invisible needle in a haystack.” She said that while there is still no compromise in sight, and no “no one-size-fits-all solution” to what balancing privacy and security should look like, policies will need to continue evolving with technology in order to address the policy and privacy challenges it presents.

Sina Beaghley speaks at a RAND Alumni Association event on Privacy and the 'Going Dark' Problem

Sina Beaghley speaking at the Alumni event in Santa Monica in September.

Photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND Corporation