Ed Snowden: Governments Can't Make The Public 'Safer' By Undermining The Encryption Essential To The Public's Security

from the DOES-NOT-COMPUTE dept

With the DOJ uniting with the UK and Australian governments to decry the use of end-to-end encryption by messaging services, it's again time to remind people why encryption matters. The way these government entities see it, encryption mainly helps criminals. Apparently, it's simply not necessary for law-abiding citizens to have secure communications.

This is wrong on many levels, starting with the insistence there's a safe way to circumvent encryption. There isn't. But multiple government agencies claim tech companies are overstating the reality, when all they're actually doing is stating the obvious.

Someone who knows a thing or two about the importance of encrypted communications has written an op-ed for The Guardian. Ed Snowden's article points out why citizens should be alarmed governments are trying to make their personal communications less secure for the children or the greater good or whatever.

For more than half a decade, the vulnerability of our computers and computer networks has been ranked the number one risk in the US Intelligence Community’s Worldwide Threat Assessment – that’s higher than terrorism, higher than war. Your bank balance, the local hospital’s equipment, and the 2020 US presidential election, among many, many other things, all depend on computer safety.

And yet, in the midst of the greatest computer security crisis in history, the US government, along with the governments of the UK and Australia, is attempting to undermine the only method that currently exists for reliably protecting the world’s information: encryption. Should they succeed in their quest to undermine encryption, our public infrastructure and private lives will be rendered permanently unsafe.

Encryption for communications encompasses far more than the idle chatter of social media users. Facebook is the target of the combined force of the US, UK, and Australian governments -- thanks to its plans to add end-to-end encryption to its Messenger service -- but other platforms and services providing encrypted communications will be next on the block if Facebook is deterred from offering this protection. Or worse, talked into creating a backdoor so either it -- or government agencies -- can spy on users' communications.

As Snowden points out, actual infrastructure is at stake. Encrypted communications are vital to the security of plenty of things even governments would like to see remain secure. And yet, they're willing to paint encryption as an accomplice to criminal acts, rather than the vital necessity it actually is.

If Facebook is willing to limit the amount of data it can harvest from its users by locking up Messenger so tight even it can't see the messages, providing encryption must not only be of value to users, but to Facebook itself. This cuts against the DOJ's ridiculous arguments that no one is demanding secure communications -- a statement that insinuates private companies are sticking it to the man just to stick it to the man.

These governments are claiming the introduction of encryption will make it impossible to investigate criminal acts. The one most frequently cited is the production and distribution of child porn. Recent cases make it clear encryption isn't preventing law enforcement agencies from tracking down criminals or shutting down their dark web services. The DOJ and others still have a wealth of investigative tools at their disposal. Private conversations that remain private doesn't change all that much. The history of criminal activity includes millions of conversations law enforcement agencies had no access to, and yet, they still managed to arrest and prosecute criminals.

This isn't about making anyone safer or preventing encrypted services from becoming ad hoc child porn servers. This is about what works easiest and best for governments.

The true explanation for why the US, UK and Australian governments want to do away with end-to-end encryption is less about public safety than it is about power: E2EE gives control to individuals and the devices they use to send, receive and encrypt communications, not to the companies and carriers that route them. This, then, would require government surveillance to become more targeted and methodical, rather than indiscriminate and universal.

The "public safety" argument doesn't make sense. The public doesn't achieve a net "safety" gain when its private communications are compromised. But it makes sense to these governments, which have often considered the rights they promised to respect as inconveniences to be routed around or removed completely.

Filed Under: chris wray, doj, ed snowden, encryption, fbi, going dark, william barr

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  1. icon
    TasMot (profile), 21 Oct 2019 @ 8:07am

    One of the things that keeps amazing me about the call to end encryption because of child porn is that they keep skipping over the fact that child porn can't be kept private. If Bad Joe makes child porn and keeps it just on his home computer, there is no money to be made. He has to sell access to it to make money. That requires that it be available somewhere. No matter how careful Bad Joe is, that "somewhere" will become widely known and lead back to Bad Joe. Even with encryption, somebody will spill the beans about where/how they got access to the child porn that Bad Joe supplied and with some good old fashioned detective work, Bad Joe will be found and eventually incarcerated.

    But, just being able to track everybody everywhere will not be as easy if encryption is in place and of course it will be (maybe) easier to track down Bad Joe because he has to roll his own encryption instead of public providers.

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