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A Very Unbalanced Compromise

Perceived threats to “national security” make politicians and pundits say stupid things, especially about privacy rights. There’s just no other way to put it. Open almost any information source, or Fox “news” if you must, at almost any time of the day for plenty of examples.

Following the recent events in Paris, came another round of those stupid things, including calls to ban communications tools that don’t allow governments to have “backdoor” access to every bit of information sent, including this one from the British Prime Minister.

He said: “In our country, do we want to allow a means of communication between people which […] we cannot read?” He made the connection between encrypted communications tools and letters and phone conversations, both of which can be read by security services in extreme situations and with a warrant from the home secretary.1

We have plenty of high profile people in this country who also want the government to have that backdoor as a tool to keep us “safe” from bad guys. Even though the NSA, our own literal “big brother”, is already hoovering up every bit of communications data they can find.

However, as Cory Doctorow, the EFF and many other smart people have pointed out, “backdoors” won’t just be used for honest law enforcement.

What David Cameron thinks he’s saying is, “We will command all the software creators we can reach to introduce back-doors into their tools for us.” There are enormous problems with this: there’s no back door that only lets good guys go through it. If your Whatsapp or Google Hangouts has a deliberately introduced flaw in it, then foreign spies, criminals, crooked police (like those who fed sensitive information to the tabloids who were implicated in the hacking scandal — and like the high-level police who secretly worked for organised crime for years), and criminals will eventually discover this vulnerability. They — and not just the security services — will be able to use it to intercept all of our communications. That includes things like the pictures of your kids in your bath that you send to your parents to the trade secrets you send to your co-workers.

Plus, as Doctorow also points our, similar requirements and technological solutions haven’t worked in much more restrictive countries like Russia, Iran, and Syria.

Ok, I’m no security expert, although I do have a good basic understanding of the technology involved. This is simply the rant of someone who is tired of being told by an assortment of largely untrustworthy figures that we must give up rights, Constitutional and other, for an uncertain and vaguely defined promise of “security”.

It all seems like a very unbalanced compromise.


  1. Diana King

    Some famous person is supposed to have said that if freedom is sacrificed for security, we wind up having neither, but I can’t find the quote. However, I like this one:
    Free people, remember this maxim: We may acquire liberty, but it is never recovered if it is once lost.
    ~ Jean Jacques Rousseau

    • tim

      Diana: you may be thinking of this statement: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” which was written by Benjamin Franklin and very often misquoted.

  2. Karen Richardson

    Part of the problem is that regular folks tend to think that if you are honest and upstanding you shouldn’t care about these kinds of intrusions. I would recommend reading Doctorow’s Little Brother and Homeland, books for young adults that have important lessons for all of us. And, Doctorow being Doctorow you can get them for free although I always make a point of paying for them to acknowledge my support for his leadership. Start here for Little Brother and an interesting video of Edward Snowden packing his bags: http://craphound.com/littlebrother/

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