The Fort Smith Army base in South Carolina has become the latest battleground in the battle over who owns what and when.
With the election looming, and with tech companies like Facebook and Google poised to compete with the military for contracts, the US military has been making the case that it is the nation’s most capable and trusted leader in cybersecurity, a position that has been embraced by some on the left.
But that’s not what many in the tech industry are seeing.
“Fort Smith, South Carolina is the first major city that we’re seeing the defense industry and the military come out against this new cybersecurity push,” said Josh Black, a cybersecurity researcher at the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike.
“They are saying the Pentagon is trying to do something that it hasn’t done in the past.”
Black added that there are no data points on whether the Pentagon has tried to stop the use of encryption, the technology that is used by tech companies to protect user data.
“The defense industry has been saying it has no plans to do this,” Black said.
The US government, Black said, has made clear that it does not want encryption in the workplace or in the cloud.
“And they have also said it’s not a bad idea, it’s a great idea, but it’s just not something that we can do with encryption.”
As a result, Black believes that the Pentagon may be pushing back against tech companies, as they see it, trying to limit their access to government contracts.
“If we have to use encryption, it’ll just take up more of our time,” Black told Axios.
“But I think that they’re trying to push back on this, because they think it’s an anti-competitive move by the tech companies and by the government to get them to give up their access.”
The tech industry’s pushback came after the Pentagon announced a new policy, announced last week, that would force tech companies that offer cloud computing services like Dropbox and Google Drive to have a government license.
The policy, which the Pentagon called “an appropriate and responsible step” in protecting national security, is intended to keep companies like Dropbox, Google, and others from being able to operate in areas that the military has deemed to be “high risk” and “high-threat,” according to a draft of the new policy.
It’s also meant to prevent the Pentagon from forcing tech companies into the open or putting them in a position where they’re unable to keep their users’ data secure.
“This is a massive step forward,” said John Giannakopoulos, vice president of government affairs for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington-based consumer advocacy group.
“It is the most significant development in a long line of government attempts to force technology companies to do what the government wants.”
Giannaki also noted that the new rules do not apply to data that’s stored in cloud providers’ own servers, but to data hosted on the government’s own servers.
Giannakis said that the policy, if implemented, could effectively allow tech companies who are using cloud storage services to “go into their servers, and the government has no ability to prevent that.”
In other words, tech companies can still run their own private data centers, even though the government might not want them to, he said.
And it’s the first time in the history of the government that the government is trying a backdoor approach to encryption, Giannakinopoulos said.
But Giannakes statement about the policy has been met with a mixed response from tech companies.
“We support any efforts to protect the privacy and security of our customers and customers of the United States, including any government efforts to restrict access to the internet,” a Dropbox spokesperson told Axi.
In a statement to the New York Times, a Google spokesperson said that “Google has never supported any attempt by the federal government to weaken encryption, and we believe in protecting encryption for our users.”
Giannopoulos, the cybersecurity researcher, said that this is all very troubling.
“What they are doing is a backdoor attack, because if they can go in there and force them to have this backdoor, then they can force them into any data storage service that they want,” Giannopoulos told Axio.
“Even though they don’t want to, they can use that backdoor to force people to comply with government orders.”
Tech companies, like Twitter, Facebook, and Microsoft, have been pushing back hard against the Trump administration, with the White House reportedly pressuring them to use encrypted messaging apps to protect their users.
“In order for this to work, they’re going to have to force companies to be able to do it,” Black added.
But Black said that it’s more likely that tech companies are trying to protect themselves.
“There is a clear desire by the defense to limit access to services like encrypted messaging and messaging apps,” Black explained.
“For example, Facebook and Twitter were looking