Encryption Control: Another Grab for Power

Encryption Control: Another Grab for Power


After the Paris attacks, some government officials are demanding backdoors inserted into the encryption programs found on mobile phones and common apps. Basically, their argument goes like this:

  1. Bad guys need to communicate to do bad things.
  2. If they use encryption, we can’t know what bad things they are doing beforehand to stop them.
  3. If we have a backdoor to crack their encryption, we can stop them and everyone is happy.

Seems simple enough. However, other than the fact that the Paris terrorists used unencrypted SMS to communicate, there are few problems with this argument:

  1. Putting backdoors in commonly-used programs and devices won’t stop bad guys from creating their own programs that don’t have backdoors. How to encrypt data isn’t exactly a secret anymore.
  2. We can’t trust government officials to use the backdoors only to stop the bad guys – it has been shown that they use their surveillance tools on everyone.
  3. How the government defines “bad guy” is very fluid, and could soon easily include those who are not currently considered bad guys.

Others have noted problems #1 & #2 above, but I don’t think many recognize the real problem: #3. We have seen the rapid changing of cultural norms in the past few decades, and how behavior that was once considered acceptable is now abhorrent, and vice versa. Having certain beliefs – particularly certain religious beliefs – may make you a target of government officials in the near future. Do we really want to give them these powers of control over us?

I recognize the need for law enforcement to do their jobs, and I appreciate the hard work of many of them to stop terrorism and other forms of violence against the innocent. However, I can’t help but think that calls by those in power to control encryption are just attempts by them to increase their own power. If they have the ability to snoop on anything and everything we do, they have the power to control our lives at an unprecedented level.

Attempts to control encryption are as flawed as attempts at gun-control: they restrict the freedom (and security) of the innocent without doing anything to stop the bad guys. It is a solution that gives more power to those in charge without making us more safe and secure.