Last week David Cameron, the prime minister of the United Kingdom, publicly stated that he wanted all encryption to be broken so him and his cronies could better spy on the populace. Shortly afterward Obama came out in support of Cameron’s desire:
President Barack Obama said Friday that police and spies should not be locked out of encrypted smartphones and messaging apps, taking his first public stance in a simmering battle over private communications in the digital age.
Apple, Google and Facebook have introduced encrypted products in the past half year that the companies say they could not unscramble, even if faced with a search warrant. That’s prompted vocal complaints from spy chiefs, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and, this week, British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Obama’s comments came after two days of meetings with Cameron, and with the prime minister at his side.
“If we find evidence of a terrorist plot… and despite having a phone number, despite having a social media address or email address, we can’t penetrate that, that’s a problem,” Obama said. He said he believes Silicon Valley companies also want to solve the problem. “They’re patriots.”
Every time a politician tells us that we need to surrender security they always sell it with fear. They tell us that they must be able to read all of our communications otherwise terrorists will kill us, pedophiles will kidnap and rape children, abusers will continue to abuse their victims, and murderers will be able to kill with impunity. I think it’s about time to bring this conversation full circle. Every one of those arguments can be flipped around.
Without having a means of anonymously and privately individuals become much easier for terrorists to target. Imagine an individual inside of a terrorist cell that wants to communicate the cell’s plans to counter-terrorists. Unless he is able to do this anonymously and privately he will likely be killed. The problem with breaking cryptographic tools so the government can bypass them is that anybody who knows about that weakness can also bypass them.
Then we have the children. Everything attack against our privacy is “for the children”. But cryptographic tools can also protect children from predators. Imagine a school setting where an instructor is planning to abduct one of the pupils. He’s obviously not going to do it on school grounds because the likelihood of him being caught is high. However if his target coordinates plans with other schoolmates via electronic communications and those communications are not secure the predator can view them and wait for them to go somewhere more isolated.
Abusers love to surveil their victims. Keeping tabs on where their victims go, what they spend, who they’re talking with, and what they’re talking about allows abusers to wield a great deal of psychological power. This ability to surveil also makes it less likely that their victims will seek help. When the chances of getting caught seeking help are high and the consequences are physical abuse then a victim is more likely to do what maintains to status quo.
Murders, like terrorists, would benefit greatly from broken cryptography. Like terrorists, murderers need to identify and track their target. If somebody is trying to murder a specific individual they may know where that individual works and lives. Businesses and neighborhoods often have too many witnesses around so a smart murderer is going to suveil their target and use the information he uncovered to strike at a more opportune time.
It’s time we start calling the politicians on their bullshit fear mongering. Whenever they bring up terrorists, pedophiles, abusers, or murderers we need to point out that those threats are also good arguments for strong cryptography.