When Edward Snowden showed the world that the United States and British governments were spying on the entire world, including their own citizens, a lot of people were pissed. Citizens of those countries were pissed because their governments had promised them for decades that they weren’t going to spy on them. Other countries, especially those who were allied with the United States and Britain, were pissed for the same reason. Both the United States and British governments were pissed because lots of people suddenly started encrypting the lines of communication that were being spied upon.
In addition to becoming pissed off the people being spied on decided to start making more thorough use of encryption. Seeing this and noting how it could hurt their spying efforts the two government responsible for this entire mess have been working diligently on making those who have begun using strong encryption criminals. David Cameron, a British politician, has been beating on the criminalizing encryption drum especially hard:
David Cameron has signalled that he intends to ban strong encryption — putting the British government on a collision course with some of the biggest tech companies in the world.
As reported by Politics.co.uk, the British Prime Minister reaffirmed his commitment to tackling strong encryption products in Parliament on Monday in response to a question.
Crypto Wars II is moving into full swing. What I really enjoy about Mr. Cameron’s crusade is how blatantly it demonstrates the true goals of the British state. Like all states the British state claims to protect the person, property, and rights of the people within its borders. However banning strong encryption would violate every British citizens’ person, property, and rights.
By not having access to strong encryption users of the Internet are directly at risk of many threats. The first threat is that their personal information is up for grabs by anybody who has the knowledge to bypass weak crypto systems. That means, for example, abused spouses could have their efforts to contact help discovered and thwarted.
Property is also at great risk if strong crypto isn’t available. If you think the leaking of credit card data is bad now just imagine what it would be like if anybody snooping communications between a client and server could break the crypto and nab the card data. Business deals would also be at risk because anybody snooping communications between two businesses could see what deals were being worked on and maneuver to hamper those deals.
Weak crypto systems also put peoples’ rights at risk. Due process could go entirely out the window if law enforcement officers are able to extend their “anything you say can and will be used against you” to snooping on every citizen at all hours of the day. On a personal level you also put the right of privacy at risk Embarrassing communications, such as those between a doctor and their patient could suddenly find themselves posted on public forums.
There is an upside to all of this. What Mr. Cameron proposes is a pipe dream. Prohibiting strong crypto is impossible because it is nothing more than math and math, being in the realm of ideas, cannot be stopped from spreading. With the widespread use of the Internet we’ve seen how impossible censorship has become and that isn’t going to change.