Free Speech

by Mike Masnick


Filed Under:
encryption, pakistan



Reports Claim That Pakistan Is Trying To Ban Encryption Under Telco Law

from the yvxr-gung-jvyy-jbex dept

As various governments have tried to clamp down, censor and/or filter the internet, all it's really done is increase interest and usage of encryption tools such as VPNs. Every so often we have commenters who insist that outlawing encryption is the obvious next step for governments, though that suggests an ignorance of the practical impossibility of truly banning encryption -- which, after all, is really just a form of speech. The US, of course, famously toyed with trying to block the export of PGP in the 90s, but finally realized that it would likely lose big time in a court battle. While I could certainly see some politicians here trying to ban certain forms of encryption, I couldn't see any such effort being successful long term.

In other countries, however, they seem ready to make a go of it. Privacy International is reporting that Pakistan is trying to ban the use of encryption, including for VPNs, as part of the implementation of a new telco law (pdf) which requires telcos to spy on their customers. Obviously, encryption makes that tougher, so the response is just to ban it entirely.

But here's the big question: can any such ban really be effective? I mean, if you and I agree on using a simple cipher between us, that's "encryption," but is indistinguishable from "speech" in most contexts. That means any such ban on encryption is effectively and practically useless the moment it goes into effect. There will always be incredibly simple ways around it. Trying to ban encryption is like trying to ban language. You can't reasonably do it.

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  1. identicon
    ASTROBOI, 29 Jul 2011 @ 1:56pm

    It will be like all the other prohibitions.

    Once encryption is banned all that remains is to define what encryption actually is. Look at history: The RICO act was supposed to make it possible to arrest gangsters just for belonging to a gang. Who could argue with that? But today, if even two people appear to be involved in something the government doesn't like, the RICO act is pulled out and now the couple is facing a serious federal felony. Consider the laws against so-called "child porn": we have people threatened with decades in jail and destroyed lives over pictures of willing, paid, 17 1/2 year old women who posed for pictures. And of course the sex-offender registry, originally meant to keep track of serious criminals. Now its used to threaten young kids who shoot a moon at a detested teacher or administrator. It has become nothing but a club to punish insubordinate kids exercising their supposed right of free speech. So too, the criminalization of "encryption" will eventually be degraded to include use of slang and colloquial terms. Kids will be accused of encrypting criminal messages through the use of hip-hop terms and nerds will be encrypting deadly messages by using acronyms. We all better just stay indoors and keep our mouths shut.

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