Politicians and Communications II: Encryption

GCHQ Always listening even with encryptionPart II

Part I examined whether governments understood broadband. The common view is that areas of high density must be connected first. This utilitarian view supports vast corporate initiatives, public-private partnerships and is very urban-centric.

What worries me is the full spectrum un-awareness the government is demonstrating in its plans for the Internet. Recently the Hacking Team leaks caused internet giants Mozilla and Google to scrap Adobe Flash. These kind of zero day exploits are what the government wants to have for itself in order to keep an eye on all our nefarious wrongdoings. But the reality is they can’t have them all to themselves.

The British and American administrations are clamouring to put backdoors into software and are even having a go at making encryption for everyday Net users illegal. We’ve been here before, in 1993 the Clinton administration supported an idea called Clipper Chips which would allow access to telecoms data. Over the last 22 years a lot has happened in cryptography and encryption, but government demands remain the same: let us in.

Distinguished computer experts from MIT have criticised the moves that both UK and US governments are proposing as:

“unworkable in practice, raise enormous legal and ethical questions, and would undo progress on security at a time when Internet vulnerabilities are causing extreme economic harm.” p3. MIT

And let us not forget the numerous cock-ups that the British government has made with data. Wikipedia has a page that lists 28 instances of data losses since 2007. Edward Snowden was able to take thousands of Top Secret documents without anyone knowing. Chelsea Manning did the same by pretending (I hope) to like Lady Gaga.

The internet is a great leveller in that individuals can go up against powerful agencies and governments and win. Hackers love a challenge, so creating a database that would give you the keys to any encrypted device is just inviting black hats and grey hats everywhere to come and have a go.

Even if you’re getting good internet access, the structural integrity of the service is up for dispute by politicians who are at best misguided and at worse authoritarian.

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