In June of 2012, the United Kingdom published its Draft Communications BIll, proposing to protect the public and bring offenders to justice by “ensuring that communications data is available to the police and security and intelligence agencies in the future”. Although at first glance this might appear fine, if not preemptively enthusiastic and eager, further investigation into the bill uncovers something rather remarkable. Not only is the UK government proposing to log IP addresses, but also physical packages, letters, and postcards, as outlined in section 25 of the Draft:
Part 1 [the main requirements to log communications data] applies to public postal operators and public postal services as it applies to telecommunications operators and telecommunications services… [this includes] personal data comprised in or attached to a communication (whether by the send or otherwise) for the purposes of a postal service by means of which it is being or may be transmitted.
If passed, the draft of this bill maintains that letters, telephone calls, email, and the Internet will be brought to a whole new level of surveillance, adopting surveillance techniques the likes of China and North Korea––a level of observation that many have dubbed draconian and economically destructive.
More recently in July 2015, British Prime Minister David Cameron reasserted his commitment to banning strong encryption, pitting the British government against some of the biggest tech companies in the World. In response to Tory MP Henry Bellingham’s question on the sustainability of privacy policies, Prime Minister Cameron declared his dedication to tackling strong encryption products in Parliament, asking, “in our country, do we want to allow a means of communication between people which we cannot read?”.
In a liberal democracy, most would answer “yes” to Prime Minister Cameron’s rhetorical question, as the right to privacy is often seen as synonymous with the right to free expression. In short, “strong encryption” refers the act of scrambling information so that it cannot be understood by anyone without the correct key or passcode––and that includes law enforcement with valid warrants. Currently, encryption is used by several of our most popular tech products and apps, including the iPhone, WhatsApp, Google, and Facebook. To learn more about the basics of encryption, check out our article What is Encryption?
3 Reasons to Rally Against Encryption Bans:
As the Business Insider: Australia notes, over the last year encryption has become a hot topic in policy issue. From Edward Snowden’s disclosure of mass online surveillance by the NSA and other spy agencies, to the attacks in Tunisia, the issue is on the rise. As such, tech companies have increasingly moved towards incorporate strong encryption into their products to protect consumers’ data. Concurrently, governments and law enforcement officials have taken to warning the masses that the proliferation of tech and strong encryption might help terrorists evade the law.
So what do we believe when competing rhetorics bombard us daily, asking us to take a strong stance one way or the other? Privacy is an urgent, if not contentious, issue, and as such, we here at Privacy Snapper strongly believe that. Here are our top three reasons to support encryption:
1. Encryption protects our most important information stored online.
This includes email, medical records, confidential corporate information, data on personal buying habits, legal documents, bank information, credit histories, transactions, and government and regulatory agency databases. Sound like a lot? It is. Without this information being encrypted, your important information is just waiting to be hacked and stolen. Encryption is your last defense against hackers when all other means of protecting the data on your computer have failed. Securing this data is critical to peace of mind in communicating business and personal information.
2. Encrypted connections with your mail servers protect private information so that outsiders can’t “listen in” on this information.
When discussing private matters, email encryption is crucial for protecting passwords, trade secrets, social security numbers, home addresses, telephone numbers, the schools that your children attend, and so on.
3. Encryption keeps the government at bay in watching us in order to minimize the influence that the government has on framing our behaviors.
William J. Maxwell’s (2015) work entitled F.B. Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover’s Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature highlights the FBI’s hostility towards Black protests, fueled by a fear of and respect for Black literature while under the supervision of J. Edgar Hoover. In this piece, Maxwell uses almost 14,000 pages of FBI files to reveal the Bureau’s close surveillance of 50 years of African American poems, plays, essays, and novels. From 1919 until Hoover’s death in 1972, secret FBI ghostreaders monitored the development of African American letters, eventually gaining enough information for the ghostreaders to simulate a sinister Black literature of their own. Although the “official aim” of the FBI’s close readings was to anticipate political unrest, Maxwell exposes how this surveillance influenced the creation and public reception of African American literature in the heart of the 20th century. The FBI threatened international travel of African American writers, preparing to throw dozens into prison in times of national emergency, resulting in disabling self-censorship of many African American writers. The serious harms of state surveillance become increasingly clearer, and with the possibility of unencrypted access to all online and offline activity, the consequences will be evermore severe.
In the wake of policy issues surrounding encryption, we need to take a stand. With the potential of an encryption ban, not only are online presences being threatened, but everyday acts. So take back your privacy, own your technology, and let’s keep control back in the hands of users.
About Brianna Wiens
Brianna is pursuing her Master’s in Communication at the University of Colorado Boulder, while also teaching university courses in organizational group interaction and communication theory.