The Crypto War is Insane

“This means of securing yourself personally is hindering law enforcement from getting to the bad guys, therefore it should be outlawed entirely.”

We don’t apply this logic to locks on front doors or blinds over windows, because we know in that context its outrageous: Personal security is just a basic utility for your own privacy and safety, something everyone is entitled to. But in the context of a pressing issue such as terrorism, and the point that criminals use online communications that use a level of encryption, it becomes an acceptable kind of authoritarianism… at least to some.

One of the problems is that we live in an environment where there is a basic agreement that civil liberties and due process is important and must be protected, yet our leadership is held by unprincipled people who abandon these ideas when the going gets tough. We did the same thing after 9/11 in Iraq: threw out International Law, facts and the Constitution and rushed in to do something. We’re starting to see something like this emerging about encryption in the wake of heightened terrorism and this false notion that perpetrators only communicate through encrypted services.

The political gray-zone of knowledge and advisory on how information technology functions, how encryption is vital for security for everyone and how its essentially a standard for most protocols nowadays is inexcusable. You had to know how to operate a telegraph in the early 1900s when it became commonplace. Same with the telephone later on. Trying to ban radio during World War II because thats how the nazis communicated on the frontlines would harshly disadvantage everyone else, since there was more of everyone else than nazis. In 2015, with the Internet now becoming a dependancy and a utility, our leaders need to know how it works, hear from experts and understand the differences when it comes to security — neverminding that, again, we don’t ban locks on doors.

The primary argument for this is to combat terrorism, but we see how badly that went for mass surveillance since this is really an extension of that. It seems we still haven’t fully grasped that when you collect everything and classify everything as a potential threat, the real threats have a tendancy to get lost in the rest of the dragnet. When you dedicate more resources to breaking crypto or classifying it as a threat, you only continue to waste time and effort as terrorist attacks go on as usual. The solution is the only one: Warranted investigations and police/counter-terrorism work in obvious areas of criminal activity. This is empirically all we can do.

This idea of outlawing encryption on the level of the citzenry would be catastrophic. If we’re talking about doing away with TLS/SSL, PGP and AES, websites will be tremendously more vulnerable to attacks and breaches, journalists wouldn’t legally be able to make secure contact with sources, and bussinesses couldn’t use certain media restrictions (even though they shouldn’t exist). However, it seems that the authorities understand this and curve around this by saying encryption shouldn’t be outlawed, but law enforcement and the government should have a copy of the private key and passphrase; set up backdoors… just in case. Not fully ridding us of encryption, just nullifying it.

We can again apply the door lock analogy to this. What good is a lock on your front door if law enforcement has a copy of the key to it? It totally ruins the purpose of something even being there. Trying to make it excusable by saying “Well, only the cops should have backdoor access” is insane. This is how you welcome blatant totalitarianism into your society. You need the ability to be safe no matter who wants to get to you. You don’t get a middleground — either you have the ability to secure yourself or not, let alone that everyday people outnumber bad actors.

This isn’t something debatable. You can’t be in favor of privacy and in the same breath believe that encrypted service providers should be pressured to introduce backdoors, or that the government should cripple a standard, harming the security of millions of people while saying that they’re keeping us safe.

We can’t allow fear and scapegoats to overwhelm those in power to go through with something horrible. We — activists, developers, journalists and honest people — truly hold the line between where civil liberties and privacy start, and where totalitarianism and unjust intervention takes over. Its our choice of how things will turn out. Please defend encryption.

The Crypto War is Insane

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