from the take-it-to-the-Thunderdome,-regulators dept
What’s the greatest threat to children since the invention of contraceptives? Why, encryption, of course. Just ask (almost) anyone. FBI directors have pointed to device and end-to-end encryption as an aider and abettor in child sexual abuse. Government leaders from around the world have claimed the addition of end-to-end encryption to Facebook’s messaging service will result in millions of abused kids. Others who find the chanting of “national security concerns” just isn’t getting the job done have often chosen to lean on abused children to make their points (badly) about the “dangers” encryption poses.
The UK government is trying to regulate encryption into nonexistence. It doesn’t have the strength of character to flat-out demand encryption backdoors so it’s trying to apply indirect pressure to accomplish the same thing. Its efforts are being aided by an extremely manipulative ad campaign — one detailed here with righteous anger by Rianna Pfefferkorn. The ad flips the script on the sanctity of the home — one given ultimate protection from government intrusion — turning it into a black box where evildoers are free to sexually assault children. The shitty metaphor equates a home with curtains drawn to end-to-end encryption, turning privacy into secrecy while suggesting only criminals are interested in private communications.
But encryption is good for kids, argues none other than the… UK government???
The UK data watchdog has intervened in the debate over end-to-end encryption, warning that delaying its introduction puts “everyone at risk” including children.
The Information Commissioner’s Office said strongly encrypting communications strengthens online safety for children by reducing their exposure to threats such as blackmail, while also allowing businesses to share information securely.
Huh. Well, that severely undercuts the rest of the government, which has claimed repeatedly that encrypted communications only aids criminals. The narrative is that the innocent have nothing to fear from pervasive surveillance and unsecured communications. The most innocent of all are the children, who the UK government apparently feels aren’t worthy of strong device or communications security. The UK government — the ICO notwithstanding — is seemingly willing to feed the kids to the proverbial wolves in exchange for nominal law enforcement gains. The ICO, fortunately, is pointing out how the UK government will endanger children (as well as other at-risk groups) by regulating encryption out of existence.
“E2EE [end-to-end encryption] serves an important role both in safeguarding our privacy and online safety,” said Stephen Bonner, the ICO’s executive director for innovation and technology. “It strengthens children’s online safety by not allowing criminals and abusers to send them harmful content or access their pictures or location.”
That’s the salient point that almost always goes ignored by critics of encryption: whatever holes are created for law enforcement can be exploited by bad people as well. It’s not as though criminals steer clear of legislatively-mandated security flaws. They’ll abuse any opening, no matter its genesis. Pretending this won’t happen is an extremely popular form of denial — one exercised loudly and repeatedly by government officials who believe security tradeoffs should only negatively affect the largest group of stakeholders: the governed. After all, if they knew what was best for the nation (and the nation’s children), surely they would have been elected by now and busily foisting security flaws on their constituents.
Presumably, the ICO’s input will be ignored in favor of the UK government’s insistence that privacy and security are just tools of the criminal trade, rather than something that should be revered, protected, and strengthened by legislation. The fact that some criminals are getting away with something continues to irk those who seem irritated that the government is incapable of controlling everything. The Online Safety bill is just a naked power grab, brought to UK residents by legislators willing to expose their indifference for the public to everyone and their children.