Law enforcement has been trying since at least the 1990’s when they jailed and tried to convict Phil Zimmerman for creating an open source encryption program called PGP, to put the encryption genie back in the bottle.
The problem is that encryption is math and math doesn’t care about politics.
If some governments were to ban encryption, there would be other countries where people who really wanted encryption could get it. And, while the math is hard, there are enough books published, enough algorithms available, that smart hackers could write their own.
Governments have been trying for decades to get software developers to create new math – math that allows for strong encryption but also gives law enforcement a master key to look at whatever they want to look at.
After all, if the TSA can’t even secure the physical keys that they use to open people’s suitcases at the airport, how likely is it that they can secure a master encryption key or keys.
So the solution is to scare people – or at least try to scare them.
Fear is a common tactic. Car makers who don’t want people to be able to repair their own cars said that allowing people to do that would embolden sexual predators (Massachusetts, 2017).
They are counting on people being fearful and not knowledgeable. Occasionally it works.
Britain is trying to scare people into giving up their right to privacy. At this point, we do not know whether it will work or not.
Rolling Stone is reporting that the UK government, at taxpayer expense, has hired the world famous advertising agency M&C Saatchi to create a major scare campaign.
According to documents reviewed by Rolling Stone, one the activities considered as part of the publicity offensive is a striking stunt — placing an adult and child (both actors) in a glass box, with the adult looking “knowingly” at the child as the glass fades to black.
The UK Home Office said that they hired Saatchi to bring together organizations that “share our concerns about the impact end-to-end encryption would have on our ability to keep children safe“.
It is fair to say that encryption does make bulk data surveillance harder, but there already is a lot of end-to-end encryption already in place. Open source software like Telegram and Signal and commercial software like Whatsapp are just a couple of examples.
The government says that the plan is to create this media blitz “to make the public uneasy”. In other words, scare them into accepting even more surveillance than they are already under.
One slide from a campaign deck says that most of the public has never heard of end-to-end encryption, adding that “this means that people can be easily swayed”.
They also said that the campaign must not start a privacy vs safety debate, but I don’t think that objective is possible.
The opening phase of the government’s scare campaign is expected to start within days.
However privacy advocates plan to start their own campaign too.
This battle is not going to end anytime soon, but the best defense is an educated public.
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