Encryption, Privacy and Free Speech

My thoughts on the current (pretty ridiculous) political situation surrounding government surveillance.

Currently, many promiment politicians are arguing for banning encryption, or somehow making it crackable by the government, especially here (the UK), and in the US, and also in Australia for some reason, as well as probably just about everywhere else. The justification for this is mostly just “TERRORISM!!!!!!!!” or (as my local MP said) “there are bad people on the internet”. I think this is a Really Bad Idea.

The ability to send messages privately is very important to free speech; if activists or journalists hold controversial opinions, they may find their data being used against them; more generally, people believe that their communications are being logged somewhere, they will be less likely to speak out against things which are going on. Besides this, I consider privacy in itself quite important, and would rather that stuff I do not end up recorded by secretive government agencies. Even if you can trust all governments, present and future, which would have access to communications data, that does not mean they’ll hold it responsibly. Something as valuable as a giant store of private data or keys for backdoors would not remain only in the government’s hands for long. I’m quite disinclined to trust the ones with the data, given that the NSA has a long history of doing illegal or very, very questionably legal things and then writing their ability to do illegal things into law, in bills with titles like the “Patriot Act”.

The other major issue with this is that politicians seem to have no idea how this would be done, and just assume that people being very clever and/or having lots of money will magically fix everything if they just pass a few laws. Here is a quote from Malcom Turnbull, Prime Minister of Australia: > Well the laws of Australia prevail in Australia, I can assure you of that. The laws of mathematics are very commendable, but the only law that applies in Australia is the law of Australia. Most of those pushing for magic government access seem to have similar views. Just saying “you’re very smart/rich, work something out” does not make it somehow possible to make a backdoor only accessible by “the good guys”.