In addition to the UK Conservatives continuing to demand an end to encryption on the vapid grounds of somehow preventing terrorism, the Australian government is keen to prove the UK Tory party doesn’t have a monopoly on stupidity by calling for a similar policy within the Five Eyes programme. The Attorney General, who loves seeing everyone else’s metadata but believes his is sacrosanct has published a memo which should be preserved for prosperity.
The level of technical ignorance in government circles is sometimes maddening, and it’s easy to believe that calling for an end to encryption on the grounds of ‘security’ is simply a convenient excuse to give governments more voyeuristic access to its citizens private lives.
Government plans are invariably simple – either somehow magically ban all encryption, or demand that all encryption produced by companies comes with a secret key or back door to enable governments to instantly decrypt anything they want to.
Since it’s posed in terms of ‘ensuring security’, far too many people accept it as absolutely necessary, since there’s a growing culture of fear in many western democracies, magnified by a 24 hour TV news cycle and click-bait style journalism.
The problem, of course, is that the average punter doesn’t really understand the implications of turning off encryption, or allowing governments to have a decryption key. So how do we help people understand just how stupid it is? For a start, we stop talking about computers, and we start talking about things that are easier to understand: the family home.
Let’s stop talking encryption for a moment and change the wording of the argument posed by governments a little, to this:
We know most terrorists plan terrorist acts in a home. Therefore, it will be mandated that all homes will feature a back door that cannot be locked, so that terrorists cannot plan things in secret.
Even a technical luddite can see through that sort of argument, but that is a real parallel to what governments call for when they’re asking for access to encryption keys, or worse, no encryption at all.
In the context of our own homes, everyone knows that such a policy would be appallingly bad, not good for security. Sure, the government might in theory be able to do something, sometime, maybe once, that achieves a return on the policy, but as a result, personal security is shot to pieces. If people aren’t permitted to lock one of the doors going into their home, it’ll result in more burglaries, break-ins, and domestic violence. The government can say all it wants about the door being secret and only the government knows ‘how’ to use it, but everyone will know that criminals will work it out and take advantage of it.
What’s more, the original call for the argument – that somehow it’ll enable them to stop terrorism – is equally farcical. If a bad person wants to skirt that law, they can do it trivially. Maybe they go for a walk in a park, or rent a car and go for a drive, or jump on a roller-coaster, or pick a quiet area in a museum, or play a game of golf. They can continue to make whatever plans they want by simply doing that planning elsewhere where there is less surveillance. Meanwhile, home owners and renters alike have had their personal security destroyed.
The only way we’re going to successfully block this assault on personal security is to help people understand that our governments don’t understand what they’re talking about and don’t have our best interests at heart when they talk with such fetid incompetence about breaking encryption.