Playing off of my post from earlier today, I feel that it’s time to update Heinlein’s famous phrase. Not only is an armed society a polite society but an encrypted society is a polite society.
This article in Vice discusses the importance of encryption to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) communities but it’s equally applicable to any oppressed segment of a society:
Despite advances over the last few decades, LGBTQ people, particularly transgender folks and people of color, face alarming rates of targeted violence, housing and job discrimination, school and workplace bullying, and mistreatment by law enforcement. In the majority of US states, for example, you can still be legally fired just for being gay.
So while anyone would be terrified about the thought of their phone in the hands of an abusive authority figure or a jealous ex-lover, the potential consequences of a data breach for many LGBTQ people could be far more severe.
LGBTQ people around the world depend on encryption every day to stay alive and to protect themselves from violence and discrimination, relying on the basic security features of their phones to prevent online bullies, stalkers, and others from prying into their personal lives and using their sexuality or gender identity against them.
In areas where being openly queer is dangerous, queer and trans people would be forced into near complete isolation without the ability to connect safely through apps, online forums, and other venues that are only kept safe and private by encryption technology.
These situations are not just theoretical. Terrifying real life examples abound, like the teacher who was targeted by for being gay, and later fired, after his Dropbox account was hacked and a sex video was posted on his school’s website. Or the time a Russian gay dating app was breached, likely by the government, and tens of thousands of users received a message threatening them with arrest under the country’s anti-gay “propaganda” laws.
Systematic oppression requires information. In order to oppress a segment of the population an oppressor must be able to identify members of that segment. A good, albeit terrifying, example of this fact is Nazi Germany. The Nazis actually made heavy use of IBM counting machines to identify and track individuals it declared undesirable.
Today pervasive surveillance is used by state and non-state oppressors to identify those they wish to oppress. Pervasive surveillance is made possible by a the lack of the use of effective encryption. Encryption allows individuals to maintain the integrity and confidentiality of information and can be used to anonymize information as well.
For example, without encryption it’s trivial for the State to identify transgender individuals. A simple unencrypted text message, e-mail, or Facebook message containing information that identifies an individual a transgender can either be read by an automated surveillance system or acquired through a court order. Once identified an agent or agents can be tasked with keeping tabs on that individual and wait for them to perform an act that justified law enforcement involvement. Say, for example, violating North Carolina’s idiotic bathroom law. After the violation occurs the law enforcement agents can be sent in to kidnap the individual so they can be made an example of, which would serve to send a message of terror to other transgender individuals.
When data is properly encrypted the effectiveness of surveillance is greatly diminished. That prevents oppressors from identifying targets, which prevents the oppressors from initiating interactions entirely. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life. Manners are better when one doesn’t have to enter into conflict in the first place.