Tech-savvy gangs a problem for law enforcement

Posted: Updated:

Police say gangs like MS-13 are becoming increasingly tech-savvy to avoid being caught by authorities. 

They say gangs are "going dark" by using certain apps and messenger services that use encrypted technology. Police tell News 12 Long Island that members of MS-13 are using encrypted apps to communicate internationally with gang leaders in El Salvador. 

William Sweeney, Jr., the assistant director in charge of the FBI, recently told Congress, "We've found that gangs are exploiting new technologies largely for the anonymity that messaging applications afford."

Nassau Deputy Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder says he would like to see changes so law enforcement can have access to app data without a court order. 

"Law enforcement needs to come together with our legislators to have those laws changed," says Ryder. "It's remarkable to me that there's certain companies in this world that make a tremendous amount of money…and they're not willing to act as corporate citizens."

Harvey Kushner, the director of the Homeland Security and Terrorism Institute at LIU, says the conflict between privacy and security was debated after the San Bernadino shooting when Apple wouldn't unlock the shooter's phone for the FBI. He says there needs to be a national cyber policy.

"We need to have an advanced public policy that would allow law enforcement to go to an agency that has an application in the private sector and write software that would override so they could get in and take a look," says Kushner. 

Last month, the Justice Department requested more than $20 million to counter the "going dark" threat, saying encryption is "severely impairing" the ability to conduct investigations and bring criminals to justice.

The New York Civil Liberties Union said in a statement Wednesday: "The government should not be able to force companies to weaken the security of their products, and thereby put our communications in jeopardy."

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