President Obama wants a conversation about encryption. “I lean probably further in the direction of strong encryption” than do some in law enforcement, he says; but he knows the “pressure they’re under to keep us safe.”
We had a “conversation” about our right to robustly encrypt our stuff in the 1990s, after Philip Zimmermann (pictured) created Pretty Good Privacy software to easily render data invulnerable to intruders, including officials eager to bypass any encryption at will. The government threatened to prosecute Zimmerman on bogus charges, but eventually dropped the matter. PGP proceeded apace.
CNET writer Declan McCullagh said it all in a recent tweet: “Obama wants ‘public conversation’ about encryption? Sure: It’s here, we’re not inserting backdoors, get used to it.”
Twitter-user “vruz” adds: “Remember when we had to have a responsible dialogue on the NSA’s mass criminality? When Obama says ‘conversation,’ he means dilution of discourse to co-opt it and make it meaningless.” #ouch.
Contrary to the president’s implication, privacy and safety reinforce each other. Ability to protect our privacy makes us safer from those who would use our passwords, Social Security numbers, and home addresses against us.
Yes, terrorists can use encryption to hide nefarious plans — just as they can use curtains that way. And basements. And cones of silence. Many things deployable for benign purposes can also abet vicious ones. But does this mean that everything innocent people have and do should be easily accessible to government officials — or savvy cyber-criminals?
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.